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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Shyheim – The Lost Generation (May 28, 1996)

Shyheim Franklin, better known to the world as Shyheim the Rugged Child, was a kid rapper out of Staten Island, New York that came on the scene in the mid-nineties. Coming up under the tutelage of Big Daddy Kane and his fellow Staten Island bredrin, RZA, Shyheim was able to score a deal with Virgin Records, where he released his debut album, AKA The Rugged Child in 1994 at the tender age of sixteen. While the album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it did receive positive reviews and receptions from the streets, which would lead to Shyheim releasing his sophomore effort and the subject of today’s post, The Lost Generation.

Like Rugged Child, Shyheim would lean heavily on RNS (not to be confused with the Rebel INS) to handle most of TLG’s production with some of the work being distributed to the likes of D/R Period, L.E.S., and the Abbott himself, RZA. TLG would produce two singles and peak at 63 on the Billboard Top 200 and 10 on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts, ultimately resulting in a yet another commercial failure for the Staten Island rapper. Shyheim would go on to release three more albums between 1999 and 2009 but would also find himself getting into criminal trouble, resulting in him serving a couple of bids, including a 2014 second degree manslaughter conviction for a hit-and-run that left one person dead. He would serve six of the fourteen-year sentence, before being released in January of 2020.

I know I sound like a broken record by this point, but The Lost Generation is yet another album that I didn’t listen to back in the day. A few years back, I copped it at a used bookstore for two dollars and will be experiencing it for the first time now with you all. So, with no further delay, lets jump into.

Shit Iz Real TLG begins with arguably the most cliche and overused song title in the history of hip-hop, accompanied by a heavily r&b flavored groove, built around a Surface (as in the group) sample. Shyheim’s voice has definitely matured since his AKA The Rugged Child days, as he uses his newfound tenor vocal tone to terrorize the hood with outlandish tales of peeling caps through peekholes and shooting up cars, making them flip into fiery explosions (It was pretty funny to hear Shy say he “spotted a gangsta bitch, told her to hold it”, in reference to getting rid of the weapon he used to blow up the car with). It was also mildly funny to hear Shy’s guest, DeLouie Avant Jr., croon “It be real when I’m packin’ steel” on the hook. I’m pretty sure the exploits that Shy brags about on this song are far from real, but they’re still somewhat entertaining, as was RNS’ smooth production.

Dear God – This was obviously recorded much earlier than the previous song, with Shyheim’s pre-puberty voice being the dead giveaway. RNS hooks up an emotional backdrop imbedded with a dope whistle that finds the young whippersnapper overwhelmed by the stresses of this world and ready to check out: “I’m in another world looking from the outside in, a corrupt planet, operating strictly off sin, you ask me will I miss this joint when I pass, the world can kiss my ass, I’m staring at the hour glass, everyday lived is a step towards death, it’s not until you’re dead that your body’s at rest.” Pop Da Brown Hornet drops by during the third verse to engage in a back and forth with Shy to talk him off the proverbial ledge, and thankfully, his attempt is successful. With mental health being such a sexy topic nowadays, this song couldn’t be more relevant and the execution of it all was solid. Well done, Shyheim.

Jiggy Comin’ – RNS creates a sorrowful synth instrumental (it literally has a lamenting female voice embedded in the track) that baby voice Shyheim uses to give a big middle finger to all the cops policing the hood. It’s not the best “fuck the police” record that I’ve heard, but it’s decent enough.

5 Elements – RNS does his best Rza impersonation with this instrumental, as he crafts a dark, dusty and rugged canvas tailor made for Shaolin’s finest to shine on. Unfortunately, none of the Wu-Tang members show up for the party, but Shy is joined by some fellow Wu-affiliates. Rubbabandz, Pop “The Brown Hornet”, Down Low Reka and Junelover, all stop by to bless the mic on this cipher session, and all parties involved spit formidable verses to match the hard backdrop, with The Brown Hornet shining the brightest. This was dope.

Shaolin Style – Speaking of Shaolin. L.E.S. gets his only production credit of the night, as he loops up a portion of Patrice Rushen’s classic record, “Settle For My Love” to create this breezy soulful bop that Shy (who transforms back into grown Shyheim) and his homie, Squig, use to rep for their borough, Staten Island aka Shaolin. Shy and Squig (whose voice and delivery sounds very similar to Shyheim’s) turn in serviceable performances, but the creamy instrumental and the clever and catchy Method Man vocal snippet on the hook are the engines that make this thing go.

Real Bad Boys – After a quick interlude that features a pimp beat and some uncredited male voice spewing random thoughts that sound like a freestyle spoken word piece, a semi-triumphant sounding instrumental comes in, and baby voice Shyheim returns to talk more of his thug shit. This was mid-grade at best.

What Makes The World Go Round – The missing question mark in the song title is on Shyheim, not me. Trigger Tha Gambler, Smoothe Da Hustler and Rubbabandz all join grown man Shy on this cipher session, while DV Alias Khrist brings it all together, flexing his grizzly baritone vocal on the hook. Other than DV’s singing on the hook, this song has absolutely nothing to do with what the song title suggests, but all four emcees entertain with quality output over D/R Period’s solid instrumental.

Can You Feel It – RNS loops up Gwen McCrae’s “Funky Sensation” for the backdrop and Shyheim sounds a little more playful on the mic than he has for most of the album up to this point, but still manages to keep things slightly gangsta. He also tries to force us to believe that his line “I’m a max like Nissan” was dope, and then insults the listener’s intelligence by spending the next bar explaining the corny play on words (I hate when rappers do that shit). King Just and Junelover also make cameos, but you won’t recognize their voices, as they’re distorted on some Sir Nose type shit and only appear shortly in between Shy’s verses. This record sounds like an attempt to make Shyheim and TLG more pop accessible, which obviously didn’t work out for him.

Life As A Shorty – Shyheim discusses his rough and tragic upbringing over a synthesized melancholic Tone Capone produced instrumental that results in more mid-grade music.

Don’t Front/Let’s Chill – This song finds our host in an interesting dilemma. A young lady is feeling Shyheim and wants to get serious, and Shy is also feeling said young lady, but he’s not trying to make her his one and only, or as he so blatantly puts it: “You’re mad sweet, and plus you look good like a muthafucka, but Imma player and not just a one-woman lover.” Two young ladies, Lamisha Grinstead and Keemeelah Williams, are credited with singing the hook, and one of his two guests (I have no idea which one) actually sings a rebuttal to Shy’s first verse. The dimly lit backdrop has a hint of middle eastern vibes and sounds nice backing our host’s thug love story. I’m shocked this record wasn’t released as a single; it definitely has crossover qualities, but still allows Shyheim to stay true to his studio gangsta mannerisms.

Things Happen – This one starts with a female, who’s apparently visiting Shyheim on lockdown, asking him how he got there. Then RNS drops his beautifully dark soulful instrumental for Shy to give his explanation, and of course the reason is over some hood bullshit. I could care less about Shyheim’s ghetto Scarface drug tales, but RNS’s production work on this one is super dope.

See What I See – D/R Period gets his second and final production credit of the night and DV Alias Khrist returns (no pun intended) to sing another hook, continuing is quest to become the east coast version of Nate Dogg (rip). Unfortunately, everything about this song, including Shyheim’s bars, was forgettable.

Still There – After hearing Shyheim start the song off by saying “This one of them gettin’ your dick sucked type tracks”, I immediately thought this would be a misogynistic lust confused for love song. Instead, Shy uses the smooth “Roni” interpolated backdrop (shoutout to Bobby Brown) to borrow Nas’ “One Love” idea for the first verse, as he raps a written letter to his baby mama who’s apparently stopped visiting her incarcerated baby daddy. I have no idea what’s going on during the second verse, but DeLouie Avant Jr. drops by again, to sing the hook and adlibs. This makes for decent filler material.

Young Godz – Madman, Rubbabandz and Killa Sin join Shy for this album ending cipher session, while Raekwon drops by to adlib on the hook, along with RZA, who’s also responsible for the hook and the dusty backdrop. Once again, pre-puberty Shyheim’s voice makes it blatantly obvious that this was recorded during the earlier TLG sessions. RZA’s instrumental is passable, but this is definitely the weakest cipher record on the album and a lukewarm closure to TLG.

Shyheim doesn’t cover any new territory on The Lost Generation, as he regurgitates the same thug rhetoric that many rappers before him have already covered, but he and several of his guests manage to make the recycled topics sound moderately entertaining. Speaking of entertaining, the RNS led production, while far from stellar, is a pretty consistent mix of grimy boom bap made for the streets and polished popish instrumentals that were clearly crafted to make Shyheim sound commercially appealing, and I’m not mad at that strategy. My biggest gripe with TLG is the various versions of Shyheim that sporadically appear, as song to song finds him changing from baby voice Shyheim to mature voice Shyheim, as if they took lost records from the Rugged Child sessions and mixed them in with Shy’s current joints just to fill out an album. With that said, TLG plays more like a Shyheim compilation than an actual album, but there are still enough solid records on TLG to make it a worthwhile listen.

-Deedub

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Kool Keith – Dr. Octagonecologyst (May 7, 1996)

In 1988 the Ultramagnetic MC’s made quite the first impression with their groundbreaking debut album, Critical Beatdown. Led by Ced Gee’s dope production and Kool Keith’s slick bars and unique rhyme patterns, the four-man crew out of the Bronx were able to sculpt a classic album that still sound as entertaining today as it did over thirty years ago when it was released. Ultramagnetic would follow-up Critical Beatdown with Funk Your Head Up in ‘92 and The Four Horsemen in ‘93, but neither album would live up to or capture the magic of their superb debut. I don’t know if the group ever officially broke up, but it would be another fourteen years before we would get another Ultramagnetic MC’s album. In the in between time, Kool Keith would embark on his solo career, releasing his debut solo project, Dr. Octagonecologyst in 1996.

Dr. Octagonecologyst (who is one of Kool Keith’s alter ego’s) is a collab album that features Keith on the mic, mostly, Dan The Automator behind the boards and DJ Q-Bert on the scratches. The album cover artwork (as you can see above) shows Dr. Octagon donning his full doctor apparel while holding a skull in one hand and a microphone in the other, looking like a whole hip-hop Marvel villain. And if the eye-catching album cover artwork wasn’t enough to gain your attention, the back of the liner notes insert has a pic of a bed covered in blood and “For heavens sake eateth me before I kill more I cannot control myself” plastered in blood on the wall. Sounds like some demented shit to me.

I found a used copy of Dr. Octagon years ago and have never listened to it until now. The dark imagery of the packaging has sparked my interest, but I’m a little apprehensive going into this, as Kool Keith’s lyrical output clearly begin to decline since his legendary performance on Critical Beatdown, which we just discussed a few weeks ago for his dismal cameo on Chino XL’s “The Shabba-Doo Conspiracy“.

Fingers crossed.

Intro – The album opens with semi-evil chords placed over soft drums and a dense bass line, while a clip from, what must be a porno flick, plays over it; all to welcome the listener to Dr. Octagonecologyst.

3000 – The Automator offers up steady drums, a discretely funky bass line, complemented by some well-placed DJ Q-Bert scratches, as Keith uses the backdrop to fire abstract verbal darts at the competition and make awkward boasts of his greatness. I don’t know if Keith’s unorthodox flow will usher hip-hop into the year 3000 as he proclaims, but you will have to listen to this song at least three thousand times to catch all of Keith’s rhymes.

I Got To Tell You – Short interlude that works as a commercial for Dr. Octagon’s practice. He specializes in intestine surgery, rectal rebuilding, relocated saliva glands and my personal favorites, chimpanzee acne and moose bumps. If you suffer from any of these medical issues, you can reach Dr. Oct at 1-800-PP5-1DODO. Hi-larious.

Earth People – This one’s a banger. The Automator creates a dark mood with angry synth chords, orgasmic key taps and slick drums that may have fathered the trap drums so prevalent in hip-hop today (still waiting on the paternity results). Keith goes from the year 3000 to reppin’ for Jupiter as he gets deep into his Dr. Octagon persona. Apparently, Dr. Oct is a green and silver skinned bald headed alien doctor, who will pull out your skull to remove your cancer and is also ready to mix it up with earthlings, as he comes equipped with “four bombs and six fire missiles, armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols.” He also boasts that you can “watch his brain glow” in “five colors: yellow, black and green and red, purple.” You might not dig Keith’s, I mean, Dr. Octagon’s nerdy sci-fi rhymes, but you can’t front on The Automator’s brilliant backdrop.

No Awareness – This one begins with dialogue taken from an old 1930’s flick, Dr. X, which sets the scene for Dr. Octagon and his co-worker, Sir Menelik, to take turns spittin’ verses full of technical jargon, a bunch of numbers and occasional pop culture references. Once again, The Automator delivers with more lovely production to back his partner and friend’s off-kilter antics.

Real Raw – As the title suggests, The Automator slides Dr. Oct a stripped-down very raw instrumental that finds the good doctor sounding lyrically more like the Kool Keith from 1988: “Gnip Gnop, you think you got that real hip-hop? I soar the charts so quickly, watched your album flop, I’m Doctor Octo’, curlin’ weights, tourin’ rhinos, liftin’ horses, throwin’ cows at your fake forces, you know my gold style, rabbit fur coat style, you be freezin’, with the flu watch you keep sneezin’.” This was dope, and it also serves as a reminder to all emcees to not get it twisted. Just because Keith is on some abstract sci-fi shit, don’t mean he can’t come back to planet earth to bust yo’ ass on the mic.

General Hospital – Short interlude to set up the next song…

Blue Flowers – Dr. Oct spews more abstract sci-fi nerd bars, and as great as The Automator’s production has been up to this point, this beautifully callous canvas (built around an amazing eerie violin loop) might be his most masterful moment of the evening.

Technical Difficulties – This is one of two tracks on Dr. Octagon that The Automator didn’t produce. Instead, Kut Masta Kurt (whose Publishing name, Funky Redneck Productions, is hi-larious) gets his first of two production credits on the night. Kurt’s instrumental sounds like blustering wind wrapped around a soothing melody, while Keith continues to spew his nerd bars. The scrambled Spanish-speaking radio transmission placed in between verses (credited to Whoolio E Glacias) was strange, but a perfect match for this song.

A Visit To The Gynecologyst – Another great interlude, and like the “Intro”, I’m confident the dialogue was taken from a porno flick.

Bear Witness – DJ Q-Bert scratches the shit out of The Automator’s stripped-down but very funky beat that also incorporates a great Chuck D soundbite.

Dr. Octagon – The title track (produced by Kut Masta Kurt) finds our host and Sir Menelik (who uses the alias Chewbacca Uncircumcised for this record) mixing it up again with more leftfield oddball nerd raps. This is definitely one of the weaker tracks on Dr. Octagon.

Girl Let Me Touch You – Over a soulful bop (I love the sexy piano keys sprinkled throughout) Dr. Oct transforms into his full alias, Dr. Octagonecologyst (your orthopedic gynecologist), temporarily putting his scalpel and stethoscope away, so he can chase a little kitty cat: “Girl, what’s wrong? come here let me take a look, you say you got burnt, your man should have wore a rubber, What type of partners you have and who’s your first lover? He never turned you around, showed you doggystyle? We got some things in common, honey, let’s talk awhile, Did he lick you there? Percolate your atmosphere? I got a mask at home, boots and some leather gear.” Keith’s hook is both catchy and creepy, and these type of records, which find him in his sweet spot, are the type of songs I expected Dr. Octagon to be flooded with.

I’m Destructive – This one begins with Dr. Octagon on some psychotic shit, as he encourages a patient to “get in the water and touch the electric wires”, followed by snippets of Geraldo Riviera’s interview with convicted cannibal and murder, Daniel Rakowitz. The Automator is credited for the production, but Andy Boy’s sinister live guitar licks are the heart and soul of the instrumental and set the dark mood for Keith, who’s in his devious class clown bag: “What would you do, if I hit your face with dog doodoo? Smear poopoo flies on your forehead, spit in your salad, vomit on your brother’s breakfast.” Keith’s practical jokes progressively get more diabolical, as he talks about burning your mother’s house down, burning your dog’s legs, cutting your parakeet’s head off with scissors and bashing your head in with ten full cans of Campbell Soup. Yep, that sounds pretty destructive to me.

Wild And Crazy – This one sounds like The Automator tried to recreate the instrumental for the Ultramagnetic MC’s “Ego Trippin'”, putting a dark spin on it, and he succeeds. By the way, I love how Keith spits complex hard to follow rhyme schemes but keeps all his hooks super simple and straightforward.

Elective Surgery – Short interlude to set up the next song.

Halfsharkalligatorhalfman – And just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, Keith introduces yet another one of his alter-egos, Mr. Gerbik. Mr. Gerbik is Dr. Octagon’s two hundred-and eight-year-old uncle, who if you didn’t catch from the song title, is half shark-alligator, half man. The Automator provides spooky chords for Mr. Gerbik to brag about having skin like razor blades, smackin’ gorillas and having sex with mares. I’ve been excepting of most of Keith’s crazy leftfield hijinks to this point, but this is where I draw the line. The back of the Dr. Octagon cd jewel case teases of a Mr. Gerbik album. Thank God that never materialized.

Blue Flower Revisited – This one begins with a somber flute, soft shimmying drums and a nerve wrecking subdued rumbling bass line that’ll make you anxious. Then Keith, I mean, Dr. Octagon, starts to spew more sci-fi space rhetoric, while the instrumental slowly blossoms into the most beautifully eerie music that my ears have ever heard, literally leaving my arms with goosebumps. It sounds like the soundtrack to being abducted by an alien spaceship out in the middle of nowhere. Easily The Automator’s best production work of the night.

Waiting Room – And while still recovering from the mind-boggling brilliancy of the previous instrumental, The Automator (with an assist from DJ Shadow, which I’m sure is just the scratches on the record) comes right back and fucks my head up with another monster mid-tempo groove. Dr. Oct resorts back to old Keith and talks that shit, sounding great in the process.

1977 – The final song of the evening finds Keith crashing all the way back to planet earth, specifically, the birthplace of hip-hop, The Bronx. Over a basic break beat, Keith pays homage to the old school park jams and honors some of hip-hop’s pioneers, as he adapts a flow reminiscent of the late seventies era, spittin’ his bars into a low-quality microphone. And with that, Dr. Octagon’s a wrap.

Dr. Octagonecologyst is a bizarre ride through the mind and world of Kool Keith’s eccentric, psychotic and slightly perverted alter-ego. The album almost plays like a dark sci-fi comedy on wax, placed over mostly amazing drums and magnificent cold, eerie and melodic instrumentation, all woven together with clever interludes and skits, while great scratches serve as the cherry on top of the superb production. If you listen to Dr. Octagon once, it’s very possible that you won’t enjoy it, but if you live with it like I have for the past three plus weeks, the production sounds grander with each listen and Kool Keith’s unorthodox flow and weirdo space/serial killer raps go from sounding like kooky randomness to, at minimum, mildly intriguing. Then again, it could be The Automator’s production that makes Keith’s rhymes sound more interesting than they really are.

So, is Dr. Octagonecologyst lukewarm experimental nonsense or an elaborately abstract masterpiece? Today, I lean towards the latter, but we may not be able to accurately assess its value until the year 3000.

-Deedub

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Erick Sermon – Insomnia (April 23, 1996)

After EPMD decided to go their separate ways in 1993, Erick Sermon kept himself busy producing for others and with his own solo career. His first solo album, No Pressure, was a hot mess that even E would later poke fun at on the intro of its follow-up, Double Or Nothing. While Double Or Nothing was far from a masterpiece, it fared much better than its predecessor (you can read my complete thoughts on both albums by clicking here and here). One of the reasons DON sounded so much better than NP was the incorporation of more of his Def Squad friends and family. The Green-eyed bandit would build on that synergy for his next project, which would come in the form of the compilation album, Insomnia.

Insomnia loosely plays like a radio show mix on the faux radio station, 88.9 WFDS (an acronym for “Where From Dark Side”), hosted by Cherry Martinez (who was a radio DJ for Power 105.1 in New York at the time). E-Double would stay behind the boards for most of Insomnia, letting some of his already established Def Squad crew members shine on the mic, but he would also give a handful of newcomers a chance to prove themselves as well. Insomnia would produce three singles, make its way to number ten on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts and received positive reviews from the critics.

I haven’t listened to Insomnia in years, so let’s walk through it together and see if it keeps us awake.

Intro – The album opens with the lovely voice of Cherry Martinez, who welcomes the listener to Insomnia and introduces the first song of the evening.

Funkorama – If you’re going to make a compilation album it’s probably best that you start it off with a record from the strongest and most successful member in your crew. Redman (with a co-production credit going to Erick Sermon) creates a laidback instrumental for himself that sounds as peaceful as a cloudy day chillin’ at the lake, with just a touch of funk added to fill it out and make it a little edgy. Redman’s in full “Redman mode”, spittin’ witty and playful bars as he mildly wilds out over the track (I can understand why they chose to censor Red’s line about “bustin’ back at the boys in blue”, but I’m curious to why they felt they couldn’t let him say the year this song was recorded or at least punch the line and have him update it to ’96). Along with a well-placed Aaron Hall vocal snippet on the hook (taken from E-Double’s “Welcome” record off the Double Or Nothing album), Red also includes a clever Q-Tip vocal sample that references his name and takes care of Tribe Degrees of Separation for yet another post. This is a dope record and yet another exception to the rule that a hip-hop album should start with a song with crazy energy. Then again, Redman brings enough energy all by himself.

The Vibe – This song features the duo Xross Breed, comprised of Rockwilder (who is better known as the producer behind some of your favorite emcee’s records) and his partner in rhyme, Kewjo. Redman cooks up what he calls “cosmic funk” (and holds down hook duties), serving it hot to the fellas, as they each get off a verse. Thank God Rockwilder gave up rhyming to focus on producing, because neither he nor Kewjo sound that nice on the mic. At least Red’s moody funk mash up was enjoyable.

As The… – Erick builds this backdrop around strong drums and a warm melodic loop, as Passion uses it to rip shit up, delivering hardcore bars with her aggressive raspy vocal tone: “Who’s the next fool to step up and be the bravest? You wanna be courageous? I’ll get up in yo anus like an intravenous penis, Passion bringin’ thrillers, the lyrical killa, getting illa with the skilla.” This is one of the strongest records on Insomnia that once again left me thirsting to hear a solo album from Passion. Dammit, man.

Beez Like That (Sometimes) – After a quick check in from Cherry Martinez back at 88.9, Jamal and newcomer, Calif are paired up for this record. For years I thought this was a Jamal solo joint, as Calif’s voice, cadence and delivery sound very similar to Jamal’s, and both gentlemen spew generic, unimaginative and unbelievable gangsta bars on this one. E-Double chefs up a gulley backdrop with jazzy highlights, all built around an ill Weather Report loop (the same loop Havoc would use on “Live Nigga Rap” from Nas’ It Was Written album, that we’ll be discussing soon enough). It’s too bad that E couldn’t find stronger emcees to bless his dope instrumental.

It’s That HitInsomnia’s crown jewel comes very early in the evening in the form of this Keith Murray record. E hooks up a dope backdrop that brilliantly muddles the line between murky and melodic, as Keith brings his A-game, spittin’ superb bully raps: “I bugs the clubs, runnin’ with thugs, makin’ niggas bite the bullet and hug the slugs, ya whole genetics is pathetic, got me ready to set it, on a shot M1 type wetted, but instead I blow you buck-fifty cross the face, for tryna look hard in the first place, I need beer, and a lotta noise in my ear, and a rowdy atmosphere, to even think clear”. All of Keith’s profanity is censored on this record (which I’ll assume had everything to do with a sample clearance agreement), but at least they do it in a cool fashion, sprinkling breaking glass, sirens, gunshots and some random noise that sounds like a burp, over each of his curses. Keith punctuates the song with a simple but catchy hook, completing this masterpiece of a record.

Up Jump The Boogie – The Green-eyed bandit gets away from his normal funk-heavy production style and along with an assist from Sugarless aka Ty Fyffe, hooks up an enjoyable jazzy mid-tempo bop that sounds great and feels good. E-Double extends an invitation to The Wixtons (a duo comprised of Jah Boogie and Shugar Diamonds) to each spit a verse and a half, and while I wasn’t blown away by their performance, they didn’t completely stink up the place, either.

Caller’s Interlude – The instrumental from Redman’s “Tonight’s Da Night” plays, while Cherry Martinez takes a few phone calls from people to give their shoutouts live on the radio, which includes calls from a chick named Debbie, an angry dude going by Mr. “I don’t wanna hear it” (whose upset about the amount of cursing being played on the radio…Cherry’s response to the grumpy chump was pretty comical), Redman and the captain of the ship, Erick Sermon. This interlude ends with Cherry introducing the next song…

I Feel It – As Cherry mentions on the previous interlude, you might remember LOD (an acronym for Legion of Doom) from their cameo on their mentor, Keith Murray’s debut album (see “Take It To The Streetz” from his The Most Beautifulest Thing In This World album). Ron Jay and 50 Grand get a chance to shine on their own record this time around, but they squander the opportunity, sounding like little Keith Murray wannabees with subpar bars. E-Double must have not been feeling them either, since he gives them one of his generic stock funk instrumentals to fumble and stumble over.

On The Regular – This one features E’s little sister, Big Kim (who spit a verse on the “In The Studio” skit on Double Or Nothing) and her partner, T-Man, collectively known simply as, Duo. E hooks up a solid funk bop for Kim and T to get loose on and they spit acceptable bars over it. I wasn’t blown away by this record, but it’s decent enough to make me interested in hearing more from Duo.

Fear – Straight out the west coast, Tommy Gunn gets a chance to rep for Los Angeles. E blesses Tommy with a monster muffled and muddy funk groove mixed with the perfect subtle splash of sturdy horns, that he uses to talk about murder, guns, weed, Hennessy and fear. Tommy’s rhymes are decent, but E’s bangin’ backdrop steals all the attention. Sadly, Tommy Gunn would pass away before Insomnia was released, as E dedicates the album to his memory in the liner notes. This song is followed by one last Cherry Martinez skit that introduces the next song…

Ready For War – E serves up what might be his shittiest instrumental of all time, which is perfect for his featured guest, Domo, who sounds like a less-talented Jamal and spits shitty bars to match it.

Reign – Fittingly, the last song of the night features The Green-eyed Bandit going dolo, spitting sharp bars over a funked-out soulful instrumental. I’d be willing to bet that Quincy Jones’ “The Dude” is one of E’s favorite records, as he once again sings a portion of it at the end of this song (the first time we heard him sang it was at the beginning of “In The Heat” from Double Or Nothing). Nevertheless, this record is hot and makes for a great ending to Insomnia.

I’ll admit, through the years I’ve been critical of Erick Sermon’s solo musical output. Most of my complaints comes from his seemingly overabundance of uninspired funk instrumentals that lack the heart and soul of the production he and Parrish Smith cooked up together as EPMD. Slowly but surely, E-Double is changing my perception. As I mentioned at the top of this post, Double Or Nothing was decent, but much better than his dismal debut album, No Pressure. E-Double out does both of those projects with Insomnia.

With his focus mainly on production, Erick (along with a few assists) is able to craft a balanced batch of smooth, hard and rugged instrumentals with a funk backbone, and only misses on two of Insomnia’s eleven tracks. While the production on Insomnia strives, the emceeing struggles to stay afloat. E-Double, Redman, Keith Murray and Passion all pull their individual lyrical weight, but the rest of E’s guests offer up performances that range from decent to downright horrible. Even with the overall middling output from his guests, Insomnia is still a solid album that’s given me a restored faith in Erick Sermon’s solo career. Fingers crossed.

-Deedub

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Chino XL – Here To Save You All (April 9, 1996)

Chino XL is a Bronx born, New Jersey bred emcee, known for his provocative punchlines and metaphors. He started his rap career in the early nineties as one half of the duo, Art Of Origin, which consisted of himself and his partner/producer, Kaoz. The group would sign to Rick Rubin’s label, Def American Recordings (later changed to American Recordings) but would wind up disbanding before things ever really got started. Even though the group was finito, Rick Rubin was still interested in Chino, which would lead to Rubin giving Chino a shot as a solo artist. In 1996, Chino would release his debut solo album, Here To Save You All, that I’ll simply refer to as HTSYA for the rest of this post, because that’s just too many damn characters to keep typing repeatedly.

Chino would rely on B Wiz (rip) to produce most of HTSYA, with a few other hands handling a few loosies on the album as well. HTSYA wasn’t a commercial success, but it did produce a number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Billboard Charts (more on that later) and receive positive reviews from most of the critics. HTSYA would be the only album Chino would release on the American Recordings imprint, and it would be another five years before he would release another album.

On the outside of the cd jewel case of HTSYA, there’s a sticker with a quote from The Source that reads: “Despite the controversial overtones of many rappers, few have had the potential to shake up both the rap industry and society in general. Chino XL has that potential.” Needless to say, he didn’t live up to that hype. But nevertheless, lets walk through the album together, shall we?

Here To Save You All – The album opens with paranormal musical vibes and aggressive drums that Rosalin “Wild Child” Harris uses as the canvas to share a spoken word poem, introducing the world to Chino and the album.

Deliver – B Wiz slides Chino a dope James Bond dipped backdrop, as our host commences to entertain with “shock jock” metaphors, showing mercy to absolutely no one. Eazy E, Daryl Strawberry, Larry Holmes, Ice Cube, Dru Down, Craig Mack, Miles Davis, Will Smith (speaking of Will Smith, do you think he would have smacked the shit out of Chino if he made the same joke that Chris Rock made at the Oscars? I highly doubt it, but if he did, Chino definitely would have responded differently than Chris did), Everlast, Sister Souljah, Russell Simmons, and the entire Jackson Family, all catch a shot at the expensive of Chino’s punchlines on this opening track (my personal favorite line is when Chino says he’s “fuckin’ up lives like teenage pregnancy” …. hi-larious!). Chino’s energetic flow and humorous rhymes sound great over this potent instrumental, which makes for a great opening track.

No Complex – Chino picks up where he left off at on the previous track, with lines like “You blew up like Rosanne’s belly, your style’s too old to do me like Aaliyah and R. Kelly” (Who would have known twenty-five years later Robert would be locked up for his underage antics? Time is truly, illmatic) and “The whole games like Richie Valens, it should never take flight”. But the crowning punchline of this song: “My company is fuckin’ me, like Arsenio does Eddie Murphy”. Wow. Like the previous song, Chino’s punchlines will grab your attention and entertain, but this instrumental is a bit underwhelming.

Partner To Swing – Over a subpar instrumental, Chino’s up to the same antics as the previous two songs. The Adam Walsh line was super inappropriate, though.

It’s All Bad – After a short snippet from the legendary Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show plays, B Wiz’ mid-tempo bop (built around elements of Marvin Gaye’s “After The Dance (Instrumental)”) drops and Chino shares a few of the curveballs life’s thrown his way (including a failed movie and the tragic loss of his infant daughter), leaving him depressed and struggling to stay optimistic about life. Even in the mist of his dark and gloomy content, Chino manages to slip in a little comic relief, with lines like “Surrounded by more white girls than a Rakim video” (if that line is over your head, go check out the “Don’t Sweat The Technique” video and you’ll immediately start laughing out loud). He also makes a small lyrical blunder when he spits “I can’t get no, no satisfaction, like being blind and watching a movie with no closed caption”, because obviously, closed caption would serve no purpose to a blind person, but whatever. It was nice to hear Chino temporarily, get away from his shock jock rhymes and show some vulnerability while sharing his story and misfortune. But why did TJ Swan have to catch a shot, though?

Freestyle Rhymes – See “Partner To Swing”, but remove Adam Walsh and add Len Bias, Christopher Reeves and Gloria Estefan to the “super inappropriate” list.

Riiiot! – Ras Kass stops by and joins Chino for this duet, as the duo exchange quick witted bars like two wordsmiths sparring over the dark and haunting production. Chino’s “I’m trying not to get fucked like 2pac in jail” line would be the one that earned him a “fuck you” on 2pac’s infamous east coast diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up”, but that bar is light compared to a few of his other lines, where he takes callous digs at the murder of Michael Jordan’s father and Oprah Winfred being molested as a child. At least Ras Kass keeps things classy, as he slightly out rhymes his host and gets off the strongest bars on this record: “Once the secret within my esophagus, is discovered like Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, I got niggas looking for Webster’s like George Papadopolis.” Shoutout to Emmanuel Lewis. Despite a few tasteless and cringe worthy bars from Chino, I enjoyed the wordplay and chemistry between these two talented emcees. With a stronger instrumental backing them, this could have been epic.

Waiting To Exhale – Chino is joined by the duo, Gravitation on this one, as the three take turns punching on Wiz’s gully production with lukewarm results.

What Am I? – Chino uses this one to talk about coming up as light skin Black Puerto Rican kid and all the ridicule he faced from White kids for being too dark, and Black kids for being too light. It’s ironic that the least empathetic human on earth would pen a song looking for empathy from the listener, but whatever. Chino’s content is cool, and the airy production scheme grows on me the more I listen to this record.

Feelin’ Evil Again – Chino spits decent bars on this one, but Wiz’s instrumental leaves a lot to be desired. There is a Phife vocal snippet imbedded in the hook, so at least I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Thousands – DJ Homicide hooks up a creamy smooth backdrop for Chino to discuss the never-ending pursuit of the dollar bill by any means necessary and outlines a few different schemes people use to get it. Chino’s rhymes were solid, but the instrumental is the true star of this one.

Kreep – This was the Billboard number one that I mentioned in the intro and the only song from HTSYA that I remember from back in the day. Eric Romero creates a beautifully melancholic canvas for Chino to pour out his heart and soul about a love lost, borrowing the hook from Radiohead’s song of the same name (but spelled “Creep”) for the refrain. Chino waxes poetic, expressing a full gamut of emotions after losing the lady that he thought he would spend the rest of his life with, and now that she’s moved on, he’s sad, angry, depressed, suicidal, and apparently, homicidal: “In my arena, should I fight or just leave her, catch amnesia, it’s enough to make me catch a seizure, catch a breather, Chino, do you even need her? Should I take the three-eighty, assassinate her like Selena?” The Selena reference seems a bit too soon, considering she was killed the year prior to this record coming out, but would you expect anything less from Chino? Regardless, this song is brilliant. Easily the best song on the album and possibly the magnus opus of Chino’s career.

Many Different Ways – Chubb Rock, Heavy D, Bone Thugs, Greg Louganis and Arthur Ash are amongst the innocent bystanders who catch strays from Chino’s verbal firearm on this one. Speaking of strays, he also takes another shot at Pac (“Not number five, like caps bust inside of 2pac’s side”) and gets off two of my personal favorite Chino bars: “You got your contract now you dissin’ me, when you barely on yourself like the Evans family’s electricity” and “Be a man like Me’Shell Ndegeocello, receive your ass beating, I perform in front of more sellout crowds than a NAACP meeting”. The instrumental sounds like shit, but Chino raps his ass off on this one.

The Shabba-Doo Conspiracy – Speaking of shitty instrumentals, this one sounds like the internal noise I imagine your stomach makes when it’s digesting your last meal and getting ready to push it out your ass. Chino does what he can with it, but Kool Keith (who by this point in his career was overly abstract) matches the backdrop in shittiness. And what the hell is a Shabba-Doo Conspiracy?

Ghetto Vampire – This one begins with a short prelude that has a female criticizing Chino for “taking these metaphors and just butchering icons in the urban community.” Then sinister chords come in and Chino explains how he used to sit at the right hand of God in heaven before his jealously and envy of God got him kicked out and vanished to earth to dwell as a vampire. During the next couple of verses, the song goes from Chino sharing his own dastardly deeds as a vampire to pointing the finger at other entities of society that suck the blood out of the masses (like churches, crooked cops, media and drug dealers). Props to Chino for the unique idea, but it’s way too late in the album’s sequencing to have to sort through all the intricate details of this storyline; and all the music changes along the way didn’t help matters, either.

Rise – I have no idea what Chino is talking about on this song, but I enjoyed the tribal-like drums in Dan Charnas’ instrumental.

My Hero – And just when you thought Chino couldn’t get more despicable, he ends HTSYA with a hidden track that would make Felonious Gru’s bald head turn red. Snippets of Nicole Simpson’s 911 calls and audio from the O.J. trial play, while a laugh track and Chino crack up, making jokes about Simpson’s murder. It’s a little uncomfortable to listen to, but a fitting ending to all the controversial content he’s spit throughout the album.

Let me start by saying, Chino XL is going to hell with a golden ticket. Even though the rhymes on this album are over twenty-five years old, I don’t believe there is a repentance available for some of the cold, callous and heartless shit that he spews on Here To Save You All. With that said, Chino’s a very talented emcee, who proves a few times on HTSYA that he doesn’t need to rely on provocative metaphors to entertain (see “It’s All Bad”, “Thousands” and “Kreep”). But let’s be brutally honest. A lot of his shit is hi-lariously entertaining and will leave you feeling guilty for finding it amusing. On “A Partner To Swing”, Chino professes he doesn’t “write punchlines”, he “writes punch rhymes” and he walks what he talks throughout HTSYA, consistently landing lyrical haymakers to the chin of all your favorite pop-culture icons. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t pack the same punch as Chino’s bars and misses way more than it hits; and the seventeen-track length is way too long, as Chino’s antics on the mic start to sound redundant the longer the show goes on. HTSYA is a decent album from a dynamic emcee, but it’s far from a heroic effort.

-Deedub

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Bahamadia – Kollage (April 2, 1996)

The first time I ever heard the Philadelphia bred emcee, Bahamadia spit was on Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol 2 project, and her work over the Ramsey Lewis assisted jazz mash up (see “Respect The Architect”) was impressive. But prior to her meeting Guru (rip) she was recording and releasing records independently, making a name for herself back in Philly. In fact, it was her independent work that put her on Guru’s radar in the first place. Her relationship with Guru would lead to her signing to Chrysalis/EMI (which at the time was also the label home to Gang Starr), where she would release her debut album, Kollage.

Bahamadia would call on her mentor, Guru, to produce a few tracks on Kollage, as well as DJ Premier, Da Beatminerz, The Roots, Ski Beats and N.O. Joe. Kollage would reach thirteen on the Billboard US R&B Charts, but despite the decent charting results and positive reviews, the album didn’t do well commercially and would be the only album Bahamadia would release on Chrysalis/EMI. It would be another four years before Bahamadia would resurface and release another album.

Moment of randomness: I recently came across an article about The Top Ten Riches Female Rappers in the World. To no surprise, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot were the top earners on the list, but I was completely caught off guard to see Bahamadia’s name at number four on the list, with a whopping net worth of thirty-two million dollars. Wtf? I don’t know if the list is cap, but if it’s not, I see you, B!

IntroKollage begins with a male voice repeatedly screaming our hostess’ name while a beautifully blunted Premo constructed groove plays underneath it, mentally transporting me to a tropical island for its full fifty second duration.

WordPlay – Guru lays down a deliciously bouncy bass line with splashes of sexy jazz horns and a slick Jeru Da Damaja vocal snippet on the hook that Bahamadia uses to showcase her skills and warm up for the evening. B’s unique vocal tone sounds great over Guru’s backdrop.

Spontaneity – Da Beatminerz are responsible for the ruggedly beautiful sound clash that makes up this instrumental, as Bahamadia uses it to get loose with her lyrics “like a double-jointed limb”. The hook is kind of awkward (what exactly is “mad explosive spontaneity” and why is she whispering it?), but regardless the song is still dope.

Rugged Ruff – Premo slides B a rugged jazzy mashup that lives up to the song title, while Bahamadia adapts a meticulous rapid fire off beat flow, leaving the instrumental riddled with holes. This was fire.

Interlude – Mystical music plays while Guru drops in to share a few words of wisdom and shoutout his protege and her album.

I Confess– This is a fly love song. Bahamadia basically talks her way through this one, as she poetically expresses to the man of her dreams that she’s the “chick” he “should be celebrating life with”, while her girl X-Cetra, assists by singing a little Marvin Gaye on the hook. B also mentions “Electric Relaxation” in a line, so I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for yet another post. N.O. Joe’s responsible for the smooth synth vibes, but Preston “P-Funk” Middleton’s infectious bass guitar licks are the heart and soul of this soothing funk groove.

UKNOWHOWWEDU – Ski gets his sole production credit of the night (with a co-credit going to Redhanded) and makes it count, as he slides Bahamadia a melodically airy bop (that kind of reminds me of The Roots “Swept Away” from their Do You Want More?!!!??! album, mainly because of the harmony imbedded in the music) that she uses to “represent her people on the Illadelph side”, shouting out everybody from Lady B, Da Youngsta’s, The Roots, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, hell, Charlie Mack even gets a shout. This is one of my personal favorites on Kollage, and it sounds just as fresh today as it did twenty-five plus years ago.

Interlude – Da Beatminerz hook up a cool after-hours lounge spot instrumental to begin the second half of Kollage.

Total Wreck – Bahamadia once said in an interview that this was the first song that she recorded for Kollage. Over a muddy instrumental stained with jazzy horns, Bahamadia does just what the song title suggest, delivering her bars in a vocal tone that sounds more aggressive than what we’re accustomed to hearing from her, but I welcome it. The instrumental is drenched in Da Beatminerz swag, so I was super surprised to read the liner notes and find that Guru produced this one. Well done, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.

Innovation – Speaking of Da Beatminerz, they are responsible for this boring backdrop that sounds like the perfect backing music for watching paint dry. Bahamadia does the best she can with it (the “Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone” line was semi-corny), but this ends up being the first dud of the night.

Da Jawn – Our hostess is joined by The Roots emcees and fellow Illadelphians, Black Thought and Malik B (rip) on the one. All three emcees get off quick verses over a Roots produced instrumental that makes me envision floating through space. Aimlessly and endlessly. Black Thought (who was not quite yet the chiseled rhyme animal that he would soon become), Bahamadia and Malik all get off average at best verses, and the sleepy production work backing them (which sounds like a throw away track from The Roots’ Illadelph Halflife sessions) makes me lose complete interest in this record.

Interlude – Da Beatminerz concoct another jazzy instrumental for this interlude that sounds much more lively and happier than their traditional muddy production sound, but I liked it.

True Honey Buns (Dat Freak Shit) – This was the third single released from Kollage. Premo provides some laidback vibrant boom bap for Bahamadia to share a story about a night out on the town with her home girl, Kia, who starts acting a little too “hoeish” for her more conservative friend’s liking: “Cause Kia went berserk, diggy low at first, subtle body language acting like a flirt, tongue stickin’ out, with the baby doll pout, talkin’ all loud, I’m like what’s this all about? Slipped out her sarong, started dancin’ in her thong, like a bootie song was on, I said sis, you know you wrong, see you the reason nigs be screamin’ bitches, hoes and tricks, can’t believe you going out on that Adina Howard shit”. It was kind of funny to hear Bahamadia spend most of the final verse rebuking her friend’s behavior and then close it out with “I’m not the one to judge”. Great record that has held up well through the years.

3 Tha Hard Way – B invites two of her home girls (K-Swift and Mecca Starr) to join her on the mic, as the three represent for the ladies, spittin’ bars over a raw Premo beat. Dope.

Biggest Part Of Me – Bahamadia dedicates this one to her son, who is currently making a name for himself as a women’s fashion designer (Google Mah-Jing Wah). N.O. Joe gets his second production credit of the night, providing the tender backdrop that sounds tailor fit for B’s heartfelt rhymes.

The European CD version of Kollage comes with a bonus track called “Path To Rhythm” featuring Ursula Rucker. But fret not my dear Bahamadia Stan’s who don’t own that version of Kollage (then again, if you’re a real Bahamadia Stan, you probably spent the extra bread to cop the European version), it’s also available to stream on your favorite DSP, and it’s a pretty solid record.

Bahamadia is an artist that I would definitely prefer to listen to on record rather than see perform live. It’s not because I don’t think she could rock a live show, but I don’t feel the acoustics of a live show would properly capture the unique warmth and hypnotic texture of her vocal tone that almost sounds like an instrument on wax. Her instrument is on full display throughout Kollage, as she sprinkles her quality bars through various flows over well-crafted instrumentals from some of hip-hop’s elite producers. The first half of Kollage starts off strong, before slowing down a little at the beginning of the second half, but it quickly picks up steam and finishes strong. Even with a few blemishes, Kollage is still a great debut from an overlooked emcee who’s mothered a few daughters in this here rap game. 

-Deedub

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Nonchalant – Until The Day (March 26, 1996)

Nonchalant was an emcee from Washington D.C. who came on the scene in the mid-nineties and made her mark with her socially conscious gold selling debut single, “5 O’Clock”. The chart-topping single will always define her rap career, and she still rests her laurels on it, which is evident if you check out her Instagram page, as her heading reads: “We met @ 5 O’Clock In the morning in ‘96. Certified gold record selling artist.” Nearly two months after releasing “5 O’Clock”, Nonchalant would release her debut album, Until The Day on MCA Records in March of 1996.

Nonchalant would call on the relatively unknown production team of B.L.A.K. Production aka Trax by B.L.A.K. (comprised of DeWayne “Bam” Staten Sr, Alonzo “Lonnie” Simmons, Jr. and Kapin L. Ferguson, Jr.) to sculpt most of the sound of Until The Day, with a few other hands involved, including a couple of credits going to the late Chucky Thompson, who was part of the Bad Boy Hitmen Production crew. Unfortunately, Until The Day didn’t match the commercial success of “5 O’Clock”, and after a few changes in management at MCA, Nonchalant would get lost in the shuffle before ever getting a chance to record and release a second album. She would eventually ask to be released from her deal with the label and go on to record a few songs for a couple different soundtracks (her Pete Rock produced record with MC Lyte, Bahamadia and Yo-Yo on the Dangerous Ground Soundtrack is dope), but would soon find herself out of the game and back to working a 9 to 5, cutting and packaging meat at a D.C. grocery store.

Speaking of packaging, MCA definitely put money into the packaging of Until The Day, as the CD format comes with an elaborate six-page insert, complete with quality photos of Nonchalant (who vaguely resembles Ashanti) in a few different outfit changes. Hopefully, the music matches the quality of the packaging.

Intro – The evening starts with a chilled, slightly dark instrumental and one of Nonchalant’s mans introducing her to the listening audience. I appreciate the enthusiasm he shows for his girl’s art, but he gets a little carried away when he refers to her as “a legend” after releasing just one hit single.

It’s All Love – The first song of the night features a breezy Chucky Thompson produced instrumental that sounds built for “insert female r&b singer’s name here.” Instead of singing over it, Nonchalant raps to and about a guy that she’s feeling, but apparently, he’s sending her mixed signals. This was an interesting way to follow up all the hype that Nonchalant’s man gave her on the intro, but it was still cool. Mainly due to CT’s pretty soundscape.

Crab Rappers – Nonchalant’s in battle mode on this one, looking to take out all wack emcees aka crab rappers, not to be confused with crab apples. The B.L.A.K. Production team hooks up a silky smooth synth instrumental, punctuated by a doom pending bass line, as our hostess commences to be the “hot sauce” to your “chicken”, while she “kicks a funky flow like a bowl of raw chitlins”; and I’m curious who the bar “Smilin’, while you’re robbin’ me for my stylin’, you need to stop before you find your grave on Long Island” was aimed at (hmmm…). Nonchalant’s battle bars are decent enough, though I’m sure L-Boogie nor Latifah were shaking in their boots after hearing this.

5 O’Clock – As I mentioned in the opening of this post, this was the album’s lead single and the biggest hit in Nonchalant’s limited catalog. Chalant uses the darkish backdrop, which is carried by a dense and bleak bass line that sounds very similar to the bass line used on “Crab Rappers”, to plead with the Black man to stop killing each other and the Black community through selling drugs. A couple of dudes (which the liner notes credit to Raguel “Bink” Dill and Andre “Smoovy” Harrison) rebuttal Chalant’s plea, explaining why they play in the ghetto streets, before she closes out the song with one more verse calling for the end of this genocide mission. The hook is both corny and catchy, Nonchalant’s message is honorable, and this record has held up pretty well over the past twenty-six years.

Lookin’ Good To Me – Nonchalant dedicates this one to a “sexy brown brotha” (her words, not mine) that’s got her wide open. So much so that she’s calling his name in her sleep and she’s “memorized the tag number on his jeep”, which sounds a little stalkerish, but no judgment. She lets him know during the second verse: “I don’t wanna press, but I must confess, that it won’t take long before the lifting of the dress”, and she’s even okay with him having kids, as long as the baby mama isn’t still trying to be with him, bringing unwanted drama into her life (the adlib of Nonchalant calling this baby mama, that she’s not even sure exist, a “dumb ass bitch” is hi-larious). Chalant’s cadence, delivery and bars kind of sound like Da Brat back when she was pretending to be into men, but the flow works well with this funky instrumental.

Kickin’ It With Non – Nonchalant and her homeboy chop it up on this short and useless interlude.

Have A Good Time – Our hostess is in party mode on this one, ready to hit the streets with her peeps and have some fun running through the club scene on the weekend. The mellow vibes of the music kind of contradict the party mood Chalant describes in her rhymes, but I enjoyed it; especially when the creamy piano loop comes in.

Lights N’ Sirens – Nonchalant dedicates this one to all the racist and crooked cops that she’s personally encountered and that unjustly harass and brutalize the Black community. For some reason, Chalant decides to rap her bars in a whisper of a voice, as if the po-po were in the next room when she was laying down her rhymes for this song. The jazz piano led quiet storm instrumental, which I liked, was an odd choice to back her content, but this was still a decent record.

Non Interlude – A manufactured laidback jazzy instrumental plays while some uncredited singers softly tell the listener to “relax your mind”, and the soothing music makes that request easy to follow.

Until The Day – The title track is built around a scrumptious semi-bluesy Chucky Thompson instrumental that finds Chalant and her guest, Quasim Baptiste discussing this struggle called life and walking in your destiny…I think. Chalant’s rhymes get a little hard to follow on this one. Chalant invites a couple of guests (George Franklin Jackson III and Michelle Blackwell) to sing the hook (built around a portion of Stevie Wonder’s record “As”) and punctuate this somber groove.

Mr. Good Stuff – Nonchalant pretty much picks up where she left off at on “Lookin’ Good To Me”. This time around she’s lusting for the Ving Rhames type: “bald head, strong back and not a weak mind.” I wasn’t crazy about this one, but I’m sure I wasn’t her target demographic, either. She does reference A Tribe Called Quest song (see the first verse: “In the back of my mind I’m thinkin’ sex on a platter”), so at least I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Thank You – Over an earnest and airy backdrop (credited to a Mark Murray, with a co-production credit going to Leonardo Pettis, who adds a few adlibs to the track as well) our hostess raps and sings praise to her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, without ever saying his name. Nonchalant’s singing on the hook was both solid and catchy, plus I don’t think I’ll ever dislike a song that gives thanks to God.

Outro – Nonchalant and company bring back the instrumental from the “Non Interlude”, putting the finishing touches on Until The Day.

Nonchalant’s name may never be mentioned amongst the top tier of female emcees (and it probably shouldn’t be), but make no mistake about it, the girl could rap. No, she won’t hit you over the head with mesmerizing lyrics or get your hormones racing with over-the-top sexual content, but on Until The Day she delivers competent bars, playing her role as an even balanced everyday Jane, tackling social issues, love, lust, inspiration and occasionally, she brags and boasts on some true emcee shit. Nonchalant’s proficient rhymes are backed by a pristine batch of synthesized instrumentals that mostly sound nice behind her flow. Until The Day is not flawless nor a classic, but it’s a solid enough debut to have justified a follow up album. Then again, maybe she was just too nonchalant for this industry.

-Deedub

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