Twinz – Conversation (August 22, 1995)

The Twinz (not to be confused with the New Orleans-based female duo and one time Rap-A-Lot Record affiliate, the Ghetto Twinz, or the Ying Yang Twins, or any other twin rap duo you would like to insert here) are the Long Beach, California-based identical twin brother rap duo, made up of Wayniac and Tripp Loc. We first heard from the Williams boys on their mentor, Warren G’s debut album, Regulate, where they made a couple of cameo appearances. Warren G would add them to his G-Funk Music group roster and helped them snag a deal with Def Jam (which was also Warren’s label home) where they would release their debut album, Conversation.

Warren G would be responsible for sonically sculpting Conversation, producing all but one song on the album. Despite not having any hit singles and flying under the radar for the most part, Conversation fared well on the charts and received positive reviews, including an impressive 4 Mic rating from The Source at a time when it still had credible.

I don’t remember hearing Conversation back in ’95 and probably didn’t even know it existed until around ’05 when I bought it used on the strength of being a fan of Warren G’s production work on Regulate. I believe this is my first time listening to Conversation in its entirety. So let’s listen together and then have a…conversation afterwards. Yeah, I know that was corny, but it was worth a try.

Conversation #1Conversation starts with a skit that has the Twinz in the studio putting the finishing touches on the album (by the way, the closing bars that Tripp Loc spits are trash). Then our hosts ask the studio engineer, Greg, to play the album back.

Round & Round – The first song of the night (which was also the album’s first single) features Wayniac and Tripp Loc dropping subpar bars over a decent feel good instrumental and a poorly written hook. What the hell does “Twinz got the sound that goes round and round” even mean?

Good Times – Over a smooth G-funk groove the Twinz reminisce about the good old days of their youth. Their rhymes fair better than what they spit on the previous song, and once again, the talented Nanci Fletcher is forced to sing yet another poorly written hook.

4 Eyes 2 Heads – This is the only song on Conversation that Warren G didn’t produce. Soopafly (who’s credited in the liner notes by his government name, Priest Brooks) slides our hosts a synth-heavy poor man’s version of a Dr. Dre circa The Chronic era instrumental that the duo use to get into some gangsta shit over. Nanci Fletcher sits this one out, but the reggae-tinged hook doesn’t fare much better. After a zillion listens, I still have no idea what their saying on the second half of the hook.

Jump Ta This – A very mediocre party song that if you listen to it enough, you might start to believe that you actually like it.

Eastside LB – This was the second single from Conversation. Warren G sprinkles some G-Funk over Denise Williams’ classic “Free” record that Tripp Loc and Wayniac use to celebrate the place they call home: the eastside of Long Beach, California. This is a nice summertime barbeque record, and it uses a well-placed Q-Tip vocal sample, so I can mark off my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Sorry I Kept You – The Twinz drop off another “sac of that G shit” over another funky Warren G bop. By the way, I love the Richard Pryor sample at the beginning of this one.

Conversation #2 – This interlude is supposed to bridge the previous song with the next one.

Journey Wit Me – The Twinz show appreciation, dedication and motivation on this… conversation (bars!). Warren G’s smooth G-Funk groove is addictive and the uncredited male vocalist sounds great singing the catchy hook. This is easily my favorite song on Conversation.

Hollywood – Tripp and Wayniac invite Neb and Jah Skillz of Da 5 Footaz to join them, as they make a hip-hop version of Rufus’ classic song with the same title. Nanci Fletcher makes yet another appearance, playing Chaka Khan on the hook. It’s not one of the strongest songs on the album, but it grows on you after a few listens.

1st Round Draft Pick – I’m kind of confused on what the song title means. Based on the Warren G hook (which is equally corny and catchy) and Wayniac and Tripp Loc’s verses, the song is clearly about violence: the violence that the Twinz will inflict on you if you try them and the violence that goes on in the hood in general. But what the hell does that have to do with a draft pick? Are they calling themselves cream of the crop prospects that would get picked in the first round of a murderer draft? Or are they saying you’ll be the first to get picked and clipped if you fuck with them? Regardless, Warren G’s slick instrumental will keep your head bobbin’ way past the first round of this draft.

Conversation #3 – Short interlude that sets up the next song.

Don’t Get It Twisted – Our hosts use this mid-tempo groove to call out the ladies who suddenly want to get with them now that they have a little money in their pockets. A group called New Birth drops in on the hook and adlibs to add some gospelish soul flavor to Warren’s infectious groove.

Pass It On – The Twinz wrap up Conversation by inviting Mnmsta and T-Dubb of Foesum and Warren G (who handles the generic and uncreative hook) to take part in this very underwhelming weed session. The last bars of the song are the same bars you heard Tripp Loc say during the album’s intro, which is supposed to bring things full circle, I guess. By the way, the bars are still trash.

If rapping was weed, the Twinz would be mid-grade. On Conversation they don’t wow or mesmerize you with their rhyming ability and content, but they don’t completely suck, either. Instead, they deliver a steady dose of west coast slang and hood shit that doesn’t cover any unchartered territory. The heart and soul of Conversation is Warren G’s production. Most of the album is laced with G-Funk bangers that make the Twinz mediocre rhymes tolerable and Conversation an enjoyable listen. And by the way, Tripp Loc’s closing bars are still trash.

-Deedub

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (August 1, 1995)

After the success of the Wu-Tang Clan’s mammoth 1993 debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, the hip-hop world was eagerly awaiting to see what the Shaolin crew would do next. Method Man quickly became the breakout star, thanks to the success of his self-titled single and his legendary hooks, so it was no surprise when he signed with Def Jam and became the first member from the Clan to release a solo album (Tical) at the tail end of 1994 (yes, I know Rza and Genius had solo albums before Meth, but those were BEFOERE the Wu-Tang Clan was formed…thanks!). The court jester of the crew, Old Dirty Bastard, was also one of the crew’s most popular members, beloved for his zaniness and wild antics. He would sign a deal with Elektra and release his solo debut, Return To The 36 Chambers, in March of ’95. So which member would follow these two high profile clansmen solo releases? Yep, you guessed it. Raekwon the Chef would release the next Wu-Tang Clan production, striking with Only Built For Cuban Linx in the summer of ’95.

OBFCL (which through the years has also been referred to as the “Purple Tape”, because the plastic covering on the first pressings of the cassette version of OBFCL was completely purple) would be produced entirely by Rza, and Ghostface Killah would play Robin to Raekwon’s Batman throughout the album (underneath Raekwon’s name on the album cover it actually says “Guest starring Tony Starks (Ghost Face Killer)”). The album would go on to earn a gold plaque, receive critical acclaim and most consider it a classic and the best Wu-Tang Clan solo album.

25 years later, let’s see if OBFCL is still worthy of all the praise.

Striving For Perfection – Over Rza’s sorrowful loop, Rae and Ghost kick off OBFCL talking about their struggle to go from being small time dealers to moving big weight. But ultimately the goal is to get out of the streets and make legit money via the music, as Rae proclaims “I got bigger and better plans, son”. This bleeds right into the first song of the evening…

Knuckleheadz – After the epic build up the intro created, Rza drops this semi-zany instrumental (which suits the song title perfectly) that Rae, Ghost and U-God (aka Golden Arms, aka Lucky Arms) use to spew their unique Shaolin street dialect over. This was cool, but I was expecting something with a little more energy to follow up the dramatic intro we just experienced.

Knowledge God – Rza strikes with more sorrowful chords as Raekwon rolls dolo for one of the few times on OBFCL, spilling more slick street lingo: “By the way, I seen your bitch, she was up in this cat’s room, skied up, weaved the fuck up, to top it off, looked beat up with two crack fiends huggin’ your seed up, I took care of that, though, but don’t worry about it, I got your back, though”. Not one of OBFCL‘s strongest records, but it’s passable.

Criminology – Rae and Ghost go toe to toe with their Shaolin slang over a monster Rza instrumental, and everybody walks away a winner on this one. Shout out to all the Tommy Hill, ice rockin’ niggas.

Incarcerated Scarfaces – Rae dedicates this one to all his drug dealing homies on lockdown. I didn’t really like this one back in the day, but it sounds better 25 years later. I’ve always loved the song title, though.

Rainy Dayz – Rza brings back the sorrowful sample used on the album’s intro that Blue Raspberry laments over with song, which is followed by one of Rza’s signature old karate flick vocal snippets. Then you hear birds chirping, Blue Raspberry singing sorrowfully about her man changing and going insane, while a disgruntle Ghostface complains that “niggas fuckin’ robbed my gate” which has him ready to murder somebody. An unnerving whistle underneath Blue Raspberry’s despairing notes and Ghost’s angry grumblings build up a thick tension, then Rza drops the eerie and gloomy violin loop that Ghost and Rae use to detail the struggle of the street life and the grit required to survive it. This was brilliant. Easily my favorite song on OBFCL.

Guillotine (Swordz) – Rza recycles a loop we first heard him flip on the intro for Meth’s Tical for this lofty cipher session between Inspecktah Deck, Genius, Rae and Ghost. All four emcees bring their A game, spittin’ razor sharp rhymes and severing the heads of their opponents in Rza’s musical dojo as the complete the second part of a wicked two-punch combination.

Can It Be All So Simple (Remix) – After a short skit that ends with Ghostface getting shot, Rza pretty much recycles the same instrumental from the original mix that appeared on 36 Chambers with a few tweaks here and there. Rae and Ghost pick up where they left off at on the O.G. mix, and even though they don’t cover any new territory, they still entertain.

Shark Niggas (Biters) – Rae and Ghost use this interlude to call out all the biters. Then Ghost gets specific and takes his infamous shot at Biggie for copying Nas’ Illmatic album cover on Ready To Die, while Rae lets out an evil snicker behind him. No matter how many times I’ve heard this interlude, it still makes me chuckle, every time.

Ice Water – Rae and Ghost are joined by Cappadonna (aka Cappachino) on this one (it sounds like U-God was supposed to be a part of it, since they mention his name twice during the song) and they each spit a dope verse over Rza’s brilliant mid-tempo banger. This shit is hard.

Glaciers Of Ice – This one starts with Ghost giving fashion tips to his crew in his colorful signature slang, then the frantic paced backdrop comes in and he, Rae and Masta Killa do a pretty solid job of keeping up with it. I could have done without Blue Raspberry singing on this one, but Rza’s instrumental is absolutely bananas.

Verbal Intercourse – Nas joins Rae and Ghost on this one, as they each spit a verse over Rza’s creamy smooth production work. Nas (who recycles a verse he originally used on a pre-Illmatic demo track, “Deja Vu”) easily raps circles around his gracious hosts with his mesmerizing lyricism and polished flow. This one still sounds great, and I love the song title.

Wisdom Body – Apparently Ghost put in so much work on OBFCL that Rae decided to reward him with his own song. Ghost uses it to spit game to a “bad bitch wit a switch” and a waistline that’s “bangin’ like a bassline” over one verse. Ghost always shines when it comes to “lady lustin'” lingo”, but Rza’s lethargic instrumental kind of fails him. They can’t all be great.

Spot Rusherz – This one begins with Rae and Ghost babbling about a bunch of nothing while the Wu-Tang Clan St. Ides commercial (remember that? The beat was incredible) blares in the background. Then Rza drops his devious backdrop and Rae paints the intricate details of his crew’s robbery scheme. This sounds better than I remembered it. And thank you Rae for stopping Ghost from raping Dorinda at the end of the song.

Ice Cream – This was the third single from OBFCL. Rza borrows an ill Earl Klugh loop and turns it into an emotional ride for Rae, Ghost and Cappadonna to rap praises to (and thirst) beautiful women of all flavors. Method Man (continues his spectacular ’95 cameo run) stops by and delivers the very catchy hook and some dope adlibs, which serve as the topping on top of this delicious treat. Pun intended.

Wu-Gambinos – This is one of my favorites on OBFCL. Rza builds this beautiful backdrop around a sophisticated violin and piano loop, as he, Meth, Rae, Ghost and Masta Killa break bread on this brilliant cipher session. Everyone involved shows up to shine (“I call my brother son, cause he shine like one”), but I’m calling this one a tie between Meth and Rza.

Heaven & Hell – This was originally released in ’94 on the Fresh Soundtrack, but also doubled as the lead single for OBFCL. Rae and Ghost take “niggas to war” as they tag team the mic, spinning another hood tale chock-full of drugs and violence, while Blue Raspberry sprinkles her lovely vocals over Rza’s dark and emotional soundscape (that Raekwon hilariously calls “exotic type-shit” at the beginning of the song). This is another single we boosted from Sam Goody back in the day to rap over the instrumental. The good old days…when you actually had to leave the house to steal music.

North Star (Jewels) – This is actually a bonus track on OBFCL. Rza lays down a sexy cinematic instrumental for the album’s finale that begins with Popa Wu (RIP) bumping into to Rae on the street, where he bigs him up and blesses him with a few words of wisdom. Then Rza unleashes the luscious violin chords for our host to spit one last verse filled with his intriguing Shaolin street slang.

Rae and Ghost are definitely not the most talented emcees in the Wu-Tang Clan, but what they lack in raw ability they more than make up for with charisma, coolness and undeniable chemistry, and all three attributes are on full display throughout Only Built For Cuban Linx. The album’s production starts out a little sluggish (I’m sticking to my story that “Knuckleheadz” shouldn’t have been sequenced as the first song after the intro), but by the time “Rainy Dayz” rolls around, Rza’s production kicks into full gear for Rae and Ghost to massage the listener’s brain “with slang that’s king”, and the random exchanges between the two on the album’s interludes and skits are almost worth the cost of admission alone. Rae also lets every member of the Clan get a piece (with the exception of ODB and I’m still curious on why he didn’t show up), making OBFCL feel like a family affair and contributing to the album’s greatness. OBFCL has held up well over the past twenty-five years and it will forever hold its own against any of the other titanic first round of Wu-Tang Clan solo albums.

-Deedub

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Grits – Mental Releases (July 18, 1995)

The Grits are a Tennessee based rap duo made up of Teron “Bonafide” Carter and Stacy “Coffee” Jones. Bonafide and Coffee met while they were both backup dancers for the Christian rock/rap group DC Talk, who were huge in the Christian music world in the nineties and had a successful string of gold selling albums. Eventually, one-third of DC Talk, Toby McKeehan (better known by his stage name TobyMac), along with producers Todd Collins and Joey Elwood, would form the production team known as the Gotee Brothers and started their own Christian label, Gotee Records. After putting out the female gospel/R&B group Out Of Eden’s debut album, the Gotee Bros would sign the Grits (which is an acronym for Grammatical Revolution In The Spirit) and they would release their debut album, Mental Releases in the summer of ’95.

I didn’t become familiar with the Grits until around 1999, after hearing their second album Factors Of The Seven, which we’ll get to someday, but in my opinion, was a masterpiece and the duo’s magna opus (if you’re like me and like to find hidden gems, go listen to it or cop it, immediately). After being blown away by Factors, naturally, I went back and bought Mental Releases hoping it would be just as or greater than their sophomore effort.

Let’s jump into, shall we?

Cataclysmic CirclesMental Releases begins with a bouncy feel good instrumental that Bonafide, Coffee and their special guest, Mr. Maxx, use to speak in abstract riddles and invite all to come into their sanctified cipher. I wouldn’t call this cipher cataclysmic, but more peaceful and pleasant. And I enjoyed it.

The World Is Round – Bonafied shares a short spoken word poem about shiesty people over a spacious and jazzy mash up, which sets up the next song…

Weigh A Buck 50 – Mo Henderson builds this drowsily melodic backdrop for the Grits to call out their fraudulent friends: “I gets meticulous administrating friendships, so none slip through my fingertips in the process, so I suggest an open eye when you sleep, peek-a-boo, I see you phony boo-boos”. A Eugene Hunter is credited for the beautiful sax chords that make this delicious backdrop even more delectable.

Set Ya Mind – Over mellow jazzy vibes, our hosts rap about the importance of having peace of mind in this walk called life. Mo Henderson’s relaxing instrumental will definitely lead you toward the path of mental tranquility.

10-A-Cee – Even though neither Bonafide or Coffee are from Tennessee, they use this one to rap praises to the Volunteer state, which is where Gotee Records is located. They spit decent rhymes on this one, but the Gotee Brothers bangin’ instrumental is the engine that makes this one go.

Universal And Worldwide – Coffee gets the first solo joint of the night (no, I’m not counting Bonafide’s thirty second spoken word poem as a solo record) and he uses it to witness to non-believers and give the listeners a brief rundown of different places you may bump into him, which includes: Champs (trying on hats), Life of Faith Church (praising God), Gotee Records (looking for ends) and the Pawn Shop (getting rid of fake jewelry). Coffee’s rhymes aren’t amazing, but the laidback instrumental, which reeks of after hour’s vibes, will surely set you straight for your midnight maraud. Speaking of midnight marauding, the Gotee Bros throw in a Q-Tip vocal snippet on the hook, which sounds dope and satisfies my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Don’t Bring Me Down – The Gotee Brothers interrupt our regularly scheduled program with this funky mash up that features a distorted and whiny male voice (probably TobyMac) singing nonsensical lyrics about grits looking like cream of wheat and Gotee posting bail for the Grits if they were to ever get locked up. The lyrics are kind of cheesy, but the hook is catchy and the groove is infectious.

Gettin’ Ready – The Gotee Brothers cook up a heepin’ helping of soul and throw in a vocal loop that conjures up memories of me sitting on those hard wood church pews as a peasy headed little nature boy. Bone and Coffee use it to discuss their life long mission to prepare for the life after this one: “I put my pants on one leg at a time to get prepared, showing no fear but still scared, of what’s to come to this world, what will be done, what a sight that will be, a sight that will be”. This is definitely one of my favs on Mental Releases.

Screen Door – The Grits are joined by the Inner Gate Dwellas (not to be confused with the Ghetto Dwellas) on this one, as they take turns discussing screen doors from a spiritual perspective. There’s definitely a lot of abstract coded rhymes on this one, and even if you don’t get all the bars, you can still enjoy the dope instrumental.

Jazz – Coffee got a solo joint, so it’s only right that Bonafide gets one too. Over a cool jazzy piano loop, Bone expresses his love for jazz music and discusses the parallels between jazz and hip-hop, punctuating his point on the hook: “Jazz is the mother and hip-hop’s the child, she died and revived now her child’s runnin’ wild, Grits is the tool and Hip-Hop’s the nation, sent to teach those of truth and creation”. If the backdrop wasn’t already slick enough, the Gotee Bros bring in a silky xylophone break on the hook, making this audio experience even more pleasurable. This is another one of my favs on the album.

Temptations -While most rappers boast and brag about their conquest of women, the Grits are the polar opposite. Over a decent instrumental the twosome take turns sharing their struggle with resisting the flesh that sometimes yearns and burns for that WAP, no matter how godly you are. The Guru vocal snippet is kind of misplaced, but all in all, this was solid.

Kickin’ Mo Rhymes – This is probably my favorite song on Mental Releases. The Gotee Bros slide Bone and Coffee a monster backdrop with soulful chords, a nasty bass line and a well-placed Biggie vocal loop. Coffee tacks on a mediocre verse at the end, but most of the song features Bone flowing like water and “spittin’ lyrical acid on plastic” to perfection. This is a banger.

Get The Picture – Bone and Coffee tackle stress, depression, anger and racism on this one. The hook is a bit ambiguous, but the content and instrumental are both rock solid.

Grammatical Revolution – Semi-bluesy mid-tempo instrumental interlude.

Forgive Me – Over a melancholic soulful backdrop, Bone and Coffee ask the Lord to forgive them for all their shortcomings. It may sound like a corny concept, but being that I’m a believer myself, I can relate. But even an atheist will enjoy the lovely instrumental.

Why Battle Me – The Grits invite their buddy, Aqua Liquid Man (who sounds like he bit studied Cee-Lo Green’s style, heavily) to join them, as they warn all their contemporaries to not take their emcee skills lightly just because their Christians. Bone delivers the strongest verse, but none of the three will (no pun intended) place the fear of God in anyone with their bars. I like Mo Henderson’s mellow instrumental, but can I get a question mark on the end of the song title, please?

Everybody Wants On -The Grits dedicate this one to all those who hang around simply as a means to get into this here rap game. On the second verse, Bone so eloquently spits: “Dozens of play play cousins tryna move in the house that Gotee built for the family, tryna use friendship as means of clout, eatin’ all the food and sleepin’ on the couch, disturbin’ the peace with outside suggestions, singing off key in our once perfect harmony, lookin’ over shoulders in supposed closed sessions, talkin’ about who you know thinkin’ you’re impressin’, look here, stay clear with that industry brown stuff, all on your nose, usin’ all the puffs”. Yes, leaches even exist in the Christian hip-hop arena. It sounds like the Gotee Bros looped the same record the Digable Planets used for “9th Wonder” (but I’m too lazy to confirm that right now) and the drowsy vibes work well with the duo’s content.

The Outro – The last track of the night features Bonafide getting one quick verse off over a funky instrumental. And that concludes Mental Releases.

On Mental Releases, the Grits do a great job of sharing their faith without coming off self-righteous or preachy. Clearly, Bonafide is the more polished emcee of the two, but Coffee’s monotone abstract style compliments Bone’s aggressive straight forward approach, nicely. On the production end, The Gotee Brothers and Mo Henderson string together an impressive batch of jazzy and soulful instrumentals that will keep you entertained from beginning to end. Mental Releases may not be a classic (mainly because the masses have never heard it), but the Grits make it an enjoyable experience that may also feed your soul in the process.

-Deedub

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guru – Jazzmatazz Vol. II: The New Reality (July 18, 1995)

In the early nineties, not only was Guru the emcee for the soon to become legendary duo, Gang Starr, he was also venturing out to pursue his solo music endeavors as well. In ’93 he dropped the first installment of his hip-hop fused jazz experiment, Jazzmatazz Vol. 1. It’s not that hip-hop hadn’t already dabbled with jazz before, as even Premo was using jazz loops for some of his production. Guru’s vision was to merge jazz musicians and singers with hip-hop, and overall, his experiment was successful. Matter of fact, it was so successful that Chrysalis would back Guru for a second dosage, as he would release Jazzmatazz Vol II: The New Reality in the summer of ’95.

Guru would stick to Volume 1‘s formula, inviting a handful of hip-hop producers, a few guest emcees and a host of jazz musicians and singers to help him create the twenty track album. The New Reality received mixed reviews, but charted a little higher than its predecessor.

I remember The New Reality being part of my summer of ’95 soundtrack. I can still vividly recall me in my parent’s conversion van playing this album in my Sony Discman with the old school headphones, while making our annual 23 hour family road trip to Louisiana. The good old days…man I miss my mama.

Intro (Light It Up)/Jazzalude I: New Reality Style – The album starts with a snippet of Guru, and what sounds like Big Shug, performing live at a show. Then the sultry jazz stylings of The Solsonics come in and Guru welcomes the listener to the album, and in a roundabout not so clear way, explains the meaning of the album title. He then goes on to stress the importance of family and talks about a 360 degree mind revolution. Question: If you revolutionize your mind 360 degrees, wouldn’t that bring your mind back to where it started? Thanks to the soothing instrumental, this one never gets old.

Lifesaver – First off, why ya’ll let Guru get away with starting this song off with “Scooby do wah, scooby do wee”? He and Carlos Bass receive co-production credit for the cold and dark, but still infectiously melodic backdrop that Guru uses to denounce violence and advocate for peace: “But let me get to the essence of what I’m sayin’ here, too many blood red streets with bodies layin’ there, the systematic fanatics are at it again, tryna kill me and all of us my friend, but don’t bend to the mental strain, against all odds, we must strive for essential gain”. The French emcee, Lucien (who appeared on and was the inspiration for the Tribe Called Quest record “Luck Of Lucien”…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) gets off a verse in his native tongue (no pun intended), and even though I have no idea what he’s saying, it still sounds dope over the ill instrumentation. Baybe’s vocals on the hook and bridge are the cherry on top of this somber but yummy treat.

Living In This World – Over a Nikke Nicole (who low-key was puttin’ in work in ’95) instrumental that’s equally melancholic and feel good, Guru gives us a hip-hop version of “What’s Going On”. Sweet Sable sprinkles her pleasant vocals in the right places, while J. Rodriquez adds some pleasant flute and clarinet chords to bring the song to completion. It’s nowhere near as iconic as Marvin’s classic, but it’s still solid in its own right.

Looking Through Darkness – Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, True Master lays down a track dripping with Wu-Tang vibes, and some uncredited soul adds some ill horn chords, providing a dope instrumental for Guru to spit over, and he handles it pretty well. The chorus was trash and Mica Paris over sings the hook, but I enjoyed everything else about this one.

Skit A (Interview)/Watch What You Say – After a short interview skit, Premo gets his only production credit of the evening. He blesses his partner in rhyme with some ole sick boom bap shit that Guru uses to call out all the big mouth trash emcees. Brandford Marsalis adds some soothing saxophone notes to smooth out Prem’s roughness, and the legendary Chaka Khan drops in to sing the hook and even sings a verse sandwiched in between Guru’s. I have no idea what she saying through most of her verse and hook, but it was still nice to hear her work with Gang Starr on a track.

Jazzalude II: Defining Purpose – Another interlude with Guru babbling talking while the Solsonics play underneath him.

For You – Guru uses his jazzy backdrop to shout out all his peeps, or as he puts it in the song’s closing bars: “Dedicated to my fam that supported, you shall always, I said always be applauded”. Me’Shell N’Degeocello adds vocals to the hook and plays bass, while Kenny Garrett adds some sweet sax chords.

Insert A (Mental Relaxation)/Medicine – A short snippet from Gang Starr’s “The Planet” plays to set up the next song. The album’s energy changes up with this one. Mark Sparks (another producer who went under the radar with an impressive catalog in ’95) hooks Guru up with a monster instrumental (Donald Byrd, who was also a part of Guru’s first Jazzmatazz installment, adds some slick trumpet notes), as he invites True Master to join him in celebrating the herbal medication: “My dialect reflects hip-hop at its best, after a fat burn of cess, and yes, I guess, you could call it habitual, cause everyday it’s a ritual”. Ini “Hotstepper” Kimoze also drops in to add some reggae flavor that makes this record sound even more amazing.

Lost Souls – The English funk/acid jazz band, Jamiroqaui helps Guru and Carlos Bess create an airy backdrop (they also sing on the hook and adlibs) that our host uses to show pity on those poor lost souls moving around with no direction. I like this one.

Insert B (The Real Deal)/Nobody Knows – A short snippet from Gang Starr’s “Mostly Tha Voice” plays to set up the song. Then a somber and emotional backdrop comes in, as Guru recalls the struggles he had to endure to make it in this here rap game. I like the song’s sentiment, but if you’re depressed it might not be the best song to listen to. I could also do without Shara Nelson’s singing on the hook.

Jazzalude III: Hip-hop As A Way Of Life – Over a dope Solsonics jazzy mash up that is definitely suitable for midnight marauding, Guru talks about exactly what the song title suggest.

Respect The Architect – This is definitely The New Reality’s crown jewel. Ramsey Lewis and Guru concoct a certified banger, as Guru and Bahamadia (who makes what might be her official debut on this record) tag team the mic delivering quality bars over the nasty track. Nuff respect to Guru, Bahamadia (I love her voice) and Ramsey Lewis for burning us with this fire.

Feel The Music – Baybe’s cool vocals over the breezy and smooth jazz vibes was very enjoyable. Guru sounds decent as well.

Young Ladies – This is the first real mishap of the night. Guru invites Patra, Big Shug and Kool Keith to join him on this one, as he Shug and Keith take turns spewing unimpressive pick up line to a woman. It’s not clear if they’re all shooting their shot at the same woman (Patra), or if Patra is even the woman their trying to get at. After 25 years, I’m still confused to what exactly her role is on the song. The dull instrumentation, corny rhymes and terrible concept make this one worthy of a toilet flush.

The Traveler – I enjoyed Donald Byrd’s trumpet play, but the song’s concept was kind of corny, as were Guru’s rhymes and hook.

Jazzalude IV: Maintaining Focus – On the album’s fourth and final interlude, I mean Jazzalude, The Solsonics create a spacious atmosphere for Guru, who takes the time to stress the importance of staying focused.

Count Your Blessings – Over an enjoyable but very emotional instrumental, Guru discusses the importance of being thankful, even in the mist of sorrow and bad times. The hook was a little too simple for my taste buds, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Choice Of Weapons – Guru’s joined by Gus Da Vigilante of Sikken Moov, as the two advice the listener to choose their minds over weapons of violence. I’ve never been crazy about this one, but it’s not terrible.

Something In The Past – For the second consecutive post, Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” is sampled. Guru loops it up to talk about bumping into a woman from his past, who apparently is also his baby mama, as he asks her in the song’s first verse how his “little man” is doing (it’s pretty pathetic sad to hear a man have to ask the mother of his son about the son’s well-being, as that’s a clear indication he and the kid don’t have a relationship…but that’s a discussion for another day). The hook was poorly mixed, as you can barely hear what Guru is saying on it, but Big Shug sounds dope crooning over the smooth groove.

Skit B (Alot On My Mind)/Revelation – After a sexy female voice of Latino descent asks Guru to let her relax him, the next song begins. Guru invites Bu from Fabidden Fruit (who we first heard on the D&D Project, and I thought went by Fabidden Fruit) to join him, as they pretty much cover the same subject matter as “Choice Of Weapons”. Both emcees deliver solid bars, but Ronny Jordan’s lovely guitar licks are the true star of this one.

The New Reality definitely has a darker more serious feel than its predecessor. A large chunk of the album captures Guru wrestling with societal ills and tapping into his vulnerable side over somber or dimly lit jazz-flavored backdrops, and I enjoyed it. While Guru has always been a high quality emcee, Volume 1 found in depth lyricism taking a backseat to the vibes and the music. He doesn’t give us his best batch of rhymes on The New Reality, but overall they’re definitely stronger than those on the former. The album runs a bit too long and there are a few throw away tracks, but overall Guru and his collective are successful in putting together a quality jazz infused hip-hop experience that has held up well through the years.

-Deedub

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Happy 29th Birthday!

The first hip-hop album that I ever fell in love with turns 29 years old today!!! Read my review on The Low End Theory here and share your thoughts. Also, let me know what your favorite song is in the comments.  And after you read my review go check out this RollingStone article on The Low End Theory written during its 25 year anniversary.  

-Deedub

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Special Ed – Revelations (June 27, 1995)

After releasing his first two albums, Youngest In Charge and Legal at 16 and 18, respectively, Special Ed made his mark on the game, then suddenly disappeared from the scene for nearly four years. Rumor has it that the Brooklyn emcee ran into some problems with his label (Profile), which caused them to put his next release, and consequently his career, on hold. Ed would remerge in ’94 as one-third of the first edition of the super group, Crooklyn Dodgers. Along with Buckshot and Masta Ace, the threesome would release the lead single and title song from the soundtrack for the Spike Lee joint Crooklyn. The song was dope, and Ed would unleash a different flow than what his fans were accustomed to hearing from him as a teen. Ed and Profile would work out their differences (well, kind of) and the following year he released his third album Revelations (Random thought: Why doesn’t anyone ever call an artists’ third album their junior effort?).

Along with himself, Ed would call on Mark Sparks (who also laced Puba with some heat on 2000 that we covered just a few posts ago), his longtime producer, Howie Tee, his deejay since the beginning of rhyme, Akshun, as well as a few others to produce Revelations. He would also lean heavily on his new style that worked so well on “Crooklyn”. Revelations received respectable reviews (tongue twister, muchers!) from the critics, but it failed to produce any successful singles and was a commercial failure. Revelations would be Ed’s last album on Profile and his last release on a major label (In 2004 he released Still Got It Made independently, but we’ll discuss that album at a later date).

I bought Revelations back in ’95 when it came out and probably haven’t listened to it since. I wasn’t crazy about it then, but let’s see (or hear) if time has been kind to the special one and his… junior release.

Lyrics – Our host kicks off Revelations with a raw Mark Sparks produced instrumental built around some dope drums and a nasty guitar loop. Ed picks up where he left off at on “Crooklyn”, showcasing his new found off beat pausing flow, and it works on this backdrop. He also shouts out ATCQ during the first verse, so that makes things even better (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check).

Neva Go Back – This was Revelations’ lead single. Howie Tee gets his only production credit of the evening and the results are not good. The instrumental sounds lost with no direction, and Ed doesn’t fare much better, as his new flow doesn’t resonate over this soundscape.

Rough 2 The Endin’ – Akshun gets his first production credit of the night, hooking up a decent semi-drowsy instrumental and a smooth hook built around a slick Big Daddy Kane vocal snippet. Ed sounds ok on this one, but it’s definitely not one of the strongest songs on the album.

Walk The Walk – Now this is more like it. Mark Sparks cooks up a dope up-tempo backdrop full of energy and spunk, while Ed drops, arguably, his strongest rhymes of the evening: “Shit is so fly that I gotta get clearance, in case I enter air space interference…and at twenty-two I’m takin’ any crew at any time, cause many rhyme, but a lemon ain’t a lime, And I don’t falsify to get by, you must be more than herbally high, to verbally reply”. Akshun, who sounds a little like DMX, livens up the hook with his amped up vocal. This was dope.

It’s Only Gettin’ Worse – Ed’s dimly lit and scarce backdrop is decent, but his flow doesn’t work on this one.

Just A Killa – On each of his two previous albums, Ed (who is half Jamaican) paid homage to his Jamaican roots with at least one reggae/dancehall inspired song. He continues that tradition with this one, as he invites Bounty Killer to join him as they take turns chanting over Ed’s tolerable instrumental. With the exception of Bob Marley, I’ve never been a big fan of reggae or dancehall; this song didn’t change my stance.

Rukus – Ed concocts a dark and raw backdrop with a dope Method Man vocal loop for the hook (I didn’t realize how many Meth loops or cameos went down in ’95) and continues to rap with his new flow. This was decent.

Freaky Flow – Akshun hooks up a breezy backdrop for Ed and he delivers adequate bars over it: “My flow is vivid, I give it two-hundred percent, that’s a hundred for me and a hundred for the rent, I know watcha meant Joe, I gotta flow too, cause they wack every show I go to, I be leavin’, I don’t be believin’ they be even, believin’ they own shit, actin’ like they own shit, butcha never will, so you better chill, or getcha grill piece, torn by the beast”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Revelations.

Won’t Be Long – Wake me up when this one is over, please.

Crazy – Ed uses this one to exercise his storytelling ability, but I must warn you, it’s not “The Mission”. There are a few amusing lines in his story (like when the thick chick tells him “I’ve seen your videos, all four of them”), but there’s really no plot, climax or point in his three verses. To add insult to injury, the instrumental is boring as shit.

Here I Go Again – Next…

Just Like Dat – Father Shaheed (from Poor Righteous Teacher) throws Ed some hard shit that he handles nicely with sharp lyricism. He invites his label mate, Nine to add some energy to the hook with his grimy vocal tone. It would have been nice to hear Nine spit a verse next to Ed’s, but regardless, this was still dope.

Everyday Iz A Gunshot – Our host invites a few friends: 40, Big I, AK and Big Moe to join him on this one, as he combines hip-hop with dancehall vibes. This was trash.

We Rule – You know how some songs start to sound better the more you listen to them? Well, that’s not the case with this one. Akshun slides Ed arguably the worst noise instrumental ever made and his flow sounds atrocious over it.

On Revelations’ opening track, “Lyrics”, Ed says “With the right flow, this shit might blow”. Well, his flow isn’t right, which is part of the reason Revelations blows, but not the way he intended it to. Don’t get it twisted, Ed has always been a sharp lyricist with great wordplay, and he’s still razor-like on most of Revelations, but his new found constipated flow doesn’t work well over most of the album’s instrumentals. Speaking of instrumentals, that’s probably the larger reason Revelations blows. Most of the album’s production ranges from trash to mediocre, so even Ed’s old more conventional flow wouldn’t have got the job done over this batch of beats. There are a few really good tracks on Revelations, but they are far and in between. The only thing that Revelations revealed to me is: just because something works once, doesn’t mean it will work all the time. Or in this case, work throughout a whole damn album.

-Deedub

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Luniz – Operation Stackola (July 4, 1995)

The Luniz (originally known as the LuniTunes) are the Oakland based rap duo made up of Yukmouth and Knumskull, and will forever be remembered for giving the world, arguably the biggest weed smoker’s anthem of all time, “I Got 5 On It”. The song was a huge hit in ’95 (making it into the top ten on the Billboard Charts) and it still pops up regularly on someone’s throwback mix everyday somewhere in this world. A few years ago, Jordan Peele resurrected the song and gave it a facelift as he used it in his horror flick, Us. While almost everybody is familiar with “I Got 5 On It”, I’m sure only a small fraction have ever listened to the Luniz debut album, Operation Stackola. 

The album’s title is just a fancy way of saying: get that money. The Luniz would call on a host of friends to produce Operation Stackola, including longtime Rap-A-Lot affiliate, N.O. Joe and the lead man of Digital Underground, Shock G. Thanks largely to the platinum selling lead single, the album would also go on to earn the duo a platinum plaque and it received positive reviews from the critics.

In Operation Stackola’s liner notes, the Luniz describe themselves as a group that represents the “Crazy comical wild side of gangsta hip-hop”, which is definitely the vibe they give off with “I Got 5 On It”. Let’s see if the rest of the album sticks to that theme, and more importantly, if the album is any good.

Intro – The Luniz open Operation Stackola with a short medley of snippets taken from a few of their songs.

Put The Lead On Ya – The Luniz sound everything but comical on this one. They invite their Oakland bredrin, Dru Down to join them, as they use the first song of the evening to let you know that they will put bullets in yo’ ass, or as Dru Drown so entertainingly puts it during his verse: “puttin’ quarter holes in fools”. Knumskull, Yukmouth and Dru all sound decent on this one, but Tone Capone’s dark and raw instrumental is the engine that makes this whip go.

I Got 5 On It – This is the smash hit record I’ve been talking about since the opening of this post, and the song that will forever define the Luniz legacy in the annuls of hip-hop. Tone Capone samples Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” for the backdrop, while the Luniz use their verses to promote unity when it comes to buying a dime bag of weed (shout out to the very underrated and forgotten Sega Genius video game, Shinobi). The Club Nouveau loop was genius, but Michael Marshall (the former lead singer of Timex Social Club that you might the group responsible for “Rumors”) gives the record a soul, belting out heartfelt notes on the hook in an attempt to convince his homie to go half on a sack with him. I don’t even smoke, but Mike is so convincing on the hook that I’d go half on a sack with him. Side note: If you have time, check out this article about Michael’s love-hate relationship with this song and the industry over the years.

Broke Hos – Shock G hooks up a laidback jazzy instrumental and borrows a portion of Gwen Guthrie’s 80’s hit “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” for the hook, while the Luniz sound like male gold diggers, claiming they don’t mess with “broke hos” and spewing lines like “A bitch can’t help me, less that bitch wealthy” and “Me don’t want a broke ass hoochie, ’cause they coochie stink”. Very juvenile content and unimpressive lyrics, but I enjoyed Shock’s instrumentation.

Pimps, Playas & Hustlas – Our hosts make this a family affair, inviting Dru Down and Richie Rich to join them as they rap praises to all the male street personalities over a whiny somberish west coast-tinged backdrop, concocted by N.O. Joe. Joe’s instrumental grows on you after a few listens, but the Luniz and their guests underwhelming performances never changes.

Playa Hata – E-A-Ski and CMT G-funk the shit out of Bobby Caldwell’s classic “What You Won’t Do For Love”, as the Luniz discuss what I’m sure you can figure out by the song title. Some dude credited simply as Teddy in the liner notes, gives the song additional flavor as he croons some solid notes on the hook and adlibs (shout out to Tevin Campbell!). Once again, the music was way more enjoyable than the Luniz’ rhymes.

Broke Niggaz – Digital Underground affiliate, DJ Fuse (also one-half of Raw Fusion) gets his second production credit of the evening (he is also credited for the intro) and he hooks the duo up with a decent stripped down bare boned instrumental. Yuk and Knum invite Knucklehead (whose alias sounds like he could be the third member of the Luniz) and Eclipse to join in on the discussion of what type of brother makes the best criminal, adding a clever Ice Cube vocal snippet on the hook to drive their point home. This makes for an adequate album cut, I guess.

Operation Stackola – The title track features a funky mid-tempo N.O. Joe produced instrumental and the Luniz discussing all the illegal business they involved themselves in, in order to stack that cheddar…fetti…you know…money. I wasn’t crazy about this one.

5150 – The song title is slang for crazy, which is derived from the clinical code they use when an individual is deemed dangerous to themselves or others and placed in a 72 hour involuntary holding facility. The Luniz use this song to share street tales of near death experiences (during the song’s intro they actually come face to face with Shock Gesus…I see what ya’ll did there…clever) that leave them feeling…loony. Unfortunately, Yuk and Knum fail to sound convincing or entertaining on this one. I like the darkish Shock G produced backdrop, though.

900 Blame A Nigga – Shock G gets his final production credit of evening, sliding Yuk and Knum a solid mid-tempo bop that they use to comically discuss why black men seem to get blamed for every crime that goes down under the sun. This was pretty entertaining. Definitely more of what I would expect to hear from a group called the Luniz.

Yellow Brick Road – This isn’t the same road that Dorothy and Toto eased on down. The road the Luniz walk is made with bricks of coke. N.O. Joe’s southern-fried synth heavy backdrop is passable, but not good enough to give this song any replay value.

So Much Drama – Nik Nack joins the Luniz on this one, and none of the three rappers say anything memorable. During Yukmouth’s verse, I did learn that the Luniz had beef with Master P over the term “Ice cream man”, as they claim they coined the phrase. Their claim may have some merit, since our hosts and Dru Down made a song called “Ice Cream Man” that appeared on Dru Down’s ’94 release Explicit Game. The song’s content is underwhelming, but this instrumental will always be near and dear to my heart, as this song and its instrumental were on the B-side of the “I Got 5 On It” single that me and one of my guys boosted from Sam Goody to rap over back in the day. The dense bass line and funky guitar licks sound even better today than they did 25 years ago.

Plead Guilty – This one begins with an uncredited male voice (it sounds like it might be B-Legit from The Click) blaming the government for putting illegal drugs in the hood for black men to sell, kill their own with, get caught and then sent to prision to serve long sentences. DJ Darryl hooks up a funky little bop that Yuk and Knum use to spit verses about slangin’ and getting caught to which they rebuttal with “Why should I plead guilty?” on the hook. The Luniz idea was solid, but the execution was choppy. At least the stank on the instrumental will have you noddin’ your head and screwing your face.

I Got 5 On It (Reprise) – This sounds like it was the original draft of the song. The verses are longer and more profane than the earlier mix, and Michael Marshall swaps out “patna” with “nigga” and sounds a lot less enthusiastic about splitting the ten on this dime bag. There is really no reason why this song should have been included on the album.

Outro – The album ends with a couple of dudes arguing, then you here a car peel out. End scene. End album.

Based on the group’s name and the short description in the liner notes of what their about, I was expecting more light-hearted comical content from the Luniz on Operation Stackola. While they do give us a few of those moments, most of the album is laced with traditional gangsta rap themes (i.e. drugs, money, violence and bitches), and more troublesome, subpar rapping. Neither Yukmouth nor Knumskull are great lyricists and their indistinct rap voices get lost in the production to the point they sound like guests on their own album. But even less appealing than their vocal tones and technical skill is their juvenile content, or more so, their inability to make the juvenile content sound interesting. The production by committee formula that the Luniz use on Operation Stackola works, for the most part, as the host of producers cook up a solid chunk of clean west coast flavored instrumentals that you’ll be moved to groove to. It’s just too bad that the Luniz couldn’t match the production’s energy.

-Deedub

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Skee-Lo – I Wish (June 27, 1995)

When it comes to one hit wonders, Antoine Roundtree, better known to the world as Skee-Lo, could be the poster child. In the summer of 1995, “I Wish” became one of the biggest hits of the year, as it received heavy radio rotation and video play, eventually earning the LA based rapper a gold plaque. He would soon follow the single with his debut album with the same name and the subject of today’s post.

Skee-Lo and his partner Walter “Kandor” Kahn would handle all of the production work on I Wish. Like the single, the album would earn Skee-Lo another gold plaque less than 6 months after its release. At the 1996 Grammys the single “I Wish” was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance and the album received a nomination for Best Rap Album. I Wish received mostly positive reviews, while true hip-hop heads gave it the side eye and dismissed it as popcorn, even if they never listened to it (maybe due to Skee-Lo’s corny skips and jersey on the album cover). Skee-Lo would go on to release two more albums on independent labels, but neither would make any noise on radio or the charts.

My older brother used to play this album back in the day, so when I came across a used copy of the cd for a buck, nostalgia moved me to cop it. Plus, there were a few songs I remember liking on the album. Let’s see if I Wish should be remembered for more than its title song.

Top Of The Stairs – The first song of the evening was also the lead single from the soundtrack for the Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson movie Money Train (which also starred the beautiful and sexy Jennifer Lopez, who is aging like fine wine, with an emphasize on the fine). Skee-Lo gets his “woe is me” swag on, as he comes from the perspective of a man at the bottom looking up to the guy on top. Well, at least that’s what the hook is about; his verses are all over the place. It was also kind of funny to hear him list off all the dirt he’s done, which includes shoplifting and destruction of property, then follows that up with “that’s not all, even made crank phone calls”, as if that offence is equivalent to murder. The instrumental is built around a G-funked interpolation of Patrice Rushen’s classic “Remind Me”, which is probably why I like it so much. The funky guitar licks at the end of the song was a nice added touch.

I Wish – This title track was the one hit for this wonder that will always define his career and single handedly propelled the album to gold status. The mellow vibes in the instrumental still sound great 25 years after this anthem for losers was made.

Never Crossed My Mind – Skee spins three different stories about when your everyday norm gets interrupted by things you didn’t see coming and have no control of. The hook is senseless, but I like Skee-Lo’s concept, even if the execution wasn’t great, and the sensitive G-funk instrumental was nice.

Superman – I believe this was the last single released from I Wish. Skee-Lo and Kandor hook up an instrumental built around an interpolation of a portion of The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets” that our host uses to attempt to get into some braggadocios emcee shit. Skee-Lo poses no emanate threat to whomever you had on the thrown in ’95 (what the hell does “Emcees get faded, ’cause I’m overrated” even mean?), but I enjoyed the instrumental and the smooth jazz horn chords.

Come Back To Me – On this one Skee-Lo’s trying to get his ex back, who apparently broke up with him after he cheated on her with her sister. Good luck with that one, bruh. The semi-sorrowful instrumental matches our host’s content, and this ends up being a decent song. Side note: This song was in the movie and on the soundtrack for Big Bully, just in case anyone cares.

Waitin’ For You – This is probably the closest Skee-Lo will ever get to sounding hardcore on a track. He and Kandor build the instrumental around the frequently borrowed bass line from Fred Wesley and The JB’s “More Peas”, as he commences to talk his shit, or should I say “stuff”, since our host frowns upon cursing (in the first verse he says “Cause cuss words are hush words, so shh, I’m disgusted”). It’s safe to say that Skee-Lo’s bars left no one shaking in their boots.

Holdin’ On – No. I think I’ll let go and move on to the next song.

You Ain’t Down – Our host gets back in his “woe is me” bag, as he talks about the homies and women who did him wrong in the past. Skee-Lo sounds decent on this one and I like the laidback Kool & The Gang “Summer Madness” inspired instrumental, and the female vocalist on the hook adds some extra flavor to the song.

Crenshaw – Skee-Lo invites his buddies Funke & Trend to join him on this one, as the trio celebrate kickin’ it on Los Angeles’ Crenshaw Blvd on Sunday nights. Nothing to see here, folks.

This Is How It Sounds – Skee-Lo takes an interpolated loop from The Isley Brothers “For The Love Of You” and jazzes it up with horn chords. He says absolutely nothing on his verses, but you can’t really go wrong with this classic sample.

The Burger Song – Skee-Lo must have been trying to get some McDonald’s branding with this one, as he creates a strong contender for worst hook in the history of hip-hop. The instrumental was kind of dope, but everything else about this song is ass.

I Wish (Bonus “Street” Mix) – Skee and Kandor synth the shit out of one of the beautiful melodies from DeBarge’s “All This Love”, and it sounds terrible and feels blasphemist. Ain’t nothing street about this mix. I’ll take the original, please.

On I Wish, Skee-Lo comes off as the squeaky clean G-rated rapper who’s not afraid to show his vulnerable side and just likes to make fun records. On the production side, he and his partner, Kandor succeed, for the most part, as they cook up a batch of polished West Coast flavored instrumentals and sprinkle a little G-funk on classic R&B loops, turning them into enjoyable soundscapes. At a time when hip-hop was flooded with gangster posturing, Skee-Lo’s unguarded everyday Joe persona is admirable, but you still have to be nice with the rhymes to sell it (or do you?). It’s not that Skee-Lo is a terrible emcee, he’s just not that good, and he writes some really bad hooks. So, if you’re ear buds are craving crispy clean breezy synth heavy hip-hop beats with a rapper who’s not that talented, but his rhymes will allow you to listen to the album when your kids are around, then I Wish is the album for you. For all your other hip-hop needs, look elsewhere.

-Deedub

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Grand Puba – 2000 (June 20, 1995)

After Brand Nubian’s debut album, One For All, Grand Puba left the group but stayed on the same label (Elektra) to pursue a solo career, which was pretty much inevitably. Puba, with his top-notch flow and polished delivery, was easily the breakout star of the group. He would release his debut solo album, Reel To Reel in ’92, which didn’t do great numbers wise, but did get love and respect from the critics and fans, alike. He would return in the summer of ’95 with his sophomore solo effort, 2000.

On Reel To Reel, Puba handled the bulk of the production, but for 2000 he would relinquish those duties, letting Mark Sparks, Minnesota and a few others take care of those responsibilities so he could focus solely on his rhymes. 2000 would produce two singles, but much like its predecessor, it didn’t do well commercially. Unlike Reel, 2ooo wasn’t unanimously embraced by the streets and it received mixed reviews from the critics. I haven’t listened to 2000 in a long time, but I remember diggin’ it back in the day. But I may be a bit bias, considering I was a Puba Stan and all.

In ’95, 2000 was Puba’s clever way of saying he was a few years ahead of the game and his contemporaries, which is now mind boggling, considering the year 2000 was 20 years ago. Time is truly, illmatic.

Very Special – Puba kicks off 2000 with a soft and mellow Mark Sparks produced instrumental, as he warms up for the evening, giving us a taste of his wittiness and effortlessly slick flow.

I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are) – This was the lead single from 2000 (it was also included on the Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 video game soundtrack). Mark Sparks steps it up a bit with this one, as he concocts a creamy smooth backdrop and adds splashes of ruggedness over it. Puba uses the sonic beauty to bless us with more of his charisma and nearly flawless flow.

A Little Of This – Kid (from Kid ‘N Play) joins Puba on this one, singing the hook with our host and adds a few adlibs. Puba spills some of my favorite Puba rhymes on this one: “I’ve gotta be one of the baddest brothers on the planet, I’m baggin’ honeys and they all got bodies just like Janet, I play it safe never takin’ chicken heads for granted, I’m superman and Lois types my rhymes at Daily Planet, I got more promise than Thomas who makes English muffins, I do more stickin’ in chicken than Stove Top Stuffing, no doubt about it hun, I hit from here to China, when I drop the D-minor, watch me soggy your vagina”. Mark Sparks’ instrumental is dripping with feel good vibes and makes for good morning music to get your day off to a great start.

Keep On – I never really cared for this one back in the day and I still don’t. Puba does his thing on the mic, but Chris “Shuga” Liggio’s spacey loop is kind of dull and brings down the song’s momentum.

Back Stabbers – Our host invites vocalist, Michelle Valdes Valentin to join him on this one, as they commence to freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson, kind of. Puba and Michelle play a couple going through some trying times in their relationship, when Michelle lets Puba know that his best friend isn’t who he thinks he is. The storyline was okay, even though the end was anti-climactic. It feels like Puba was trying to recapture the magic he and Mary J Blige created with “What’s The 411?” and Reel To Reel‘s “Check It Out”, but Miss Valentin is not Mary and this song isn’t nearly as memorable as those two. Mark Sparks’ airy mid-tempo backdrop was enjoyable, though.

2000 – Minnesota gets his first production credit of the evening as he slides Puba a dope instrumental to destroy for the album’s title track: “I’m the Scooby with the Doo, I like my philly with a brew, all you niggas talkin’ shit about Puba – fuck you! You know what you can do? You can lick the twins, when I pull them outta skins, and I put ’em your face, you can tell me how it taste”. Definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.

Amazing – Minnesota comes right back with another dope instrumental, as he samples The Brothers Johnson’s “Tomorrow” and turns it into a soulful groove for Puba to continue to get busy on: “My beats kick you in the head like a Timberland, me and my crew stay tight like the X-Men, I gets mean, and then I turn into the Wolverine, and then I grab the mic and blow the whole spot to smithereens, I gets down for the money honey, I got the style that’s real, that’s why brothers chew my shit up like gummy bears, it’s the New York shocker, representin’ like a Knickerbocker, watch me get it cookin’ like Betty Crocker, I’ll make you choke like I’m indo smoke, cause I’m downright nasty like Diet Coke”. Minnesota and Puba make sure this one lives up to the song title.

Don’t Waste My Time – Alamo lays down a sophisticatedly sexy backdrop that Puba uses to issue a warning about messing with scheming groupies: “Honey set them traps, that’s why Tyson was where he was at, they want you for your name and fame, quick to get butt naked, when you play them out, they run and said you tried to take it”. It was nice to hear Puba temporarily get away from freestyle rhymes and focus on a topic, and the music behind him fits his content, perfectly. This one has aged well.

Play It Cool – Puba reunites with one of his Brand Nubian bredrin, Sadat X on this one. Both of the New Rochelle emcees spit a verse over Minnesota’s funky piano loop, vibrating bass line and rough drums. Like he did on One For All, Puba raps circles around his old friend, but it was still nice to hear them back together. I wonder how Lord Jamar would have fared over this up-tempo beat. This one sounds way better than I remember it back in the day.

Playin The Game – The song feels incomplete and like it was thrown on the album just to fill space. I kind of like the Barry White loop, though.

Change Gonna Come – Puba wraps up 2000 by giving the listener some gems and food for thought to chew on: “Some think respect is an uzi or tech, but when they steal your intellect, it’s like a rope around your neck…that’s the 2000 tricknowledge, that’s the shit you won’t learn in college”. Dante Ross provides our host with a melodic backdrop dripping with serious vibes, making for the perfect canvas for Puba to paint with his conscious brush. And remember: “A gat don’t make you a man, cause a man made the gat”.

After revisiting 2000 these past few weeks, I can partial understand why the reviews for 2000 were mixed. Grand Puba picks up where he left off at on Reel To Reel, delivering witty punchlines and sharp word play with his effortless refined flow that is severely underrated, by the way. But like I’ve mentioned in the past, Puba has never been super strong on the conceptual side, so a Puba album can easily start to sound like one long freestyle. The production on 2000 is also a lot more polished than the dusty boom-bap found on Reel, which I enjoyed for the most part, but I know a lot of east coast hip-hop heads don’t appreciate. 2000 is far from a classic, but in my opinion, it’s a solid sophomore effort from a great emcee, who at one point I had in my top ten.

-Deedub

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Miilkbone – Da’ Miilkrate (June 20, 1995)

Thanks to the commercial success of groups like The Beasties Boys, Vanilla Ice and 3rd Bass, by the mid-nineties, major labels were ready and very willing to find and sign the next hot white rapper to a deal. Insert New Jersey native Thomas Wlodarczyk, better known as Miilkbone, into the equation.

Loosely linked to Naughty By Nature’s Illtown squad, Miilkbone would get a deal with  Capitol Records (which was also the label home to the Beastie Boys at the time), where he would release his debut album, Da’ Miilkrate. Miilkbone would call on newcomers, Mufi and Nick Wiz to produce the bulk of the album, with Kay Gee and a few others contributing a track here and there. The album produced two singles that made little noise and the album was a commercial failure that received average to poor reviews from the critics. Da’ Miilkcrate would be the only album Miilkbone would release on Capitol, but he would go on to release two independent albums, do a short stint with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and make a dis record aimed at Eminem (see “Dear Slim”).

I’ve never listened to Da’ Miilkrate before this post. I found a used copy of the cd a few years ago and bought it on the strength of the first single that I liked back in the day.

By the way, the cover artwork looks horrible. Hopefully the album doesn’t sound as bad.

No GimmicksDa’ Miilkrate opens with a female asking Miilkbone questions about his parents opinion on him choosing to pursue a career in rap and how he feels about being viewed as a “wannabe” by most of the world. Miilk answers her questions in a roundabout way with very wordy responses.

Ghettobiz – Over a somberish mid-tempo instrumental (produced by Nick-Wiz), Miilk embraces and big ups the griminess of the hood. He also manages to slide in “nigga” a couple of times during his verses. I’m shocked no one called him out on this back in the day. Maybe that’s because no one ever listened to the album, including his own crew. Regardless, it’s not a bad song, but it’s a bit too low on energy for an opening track.

Keep It Real – This was the lead single from Da’ Miilkrate, and probably the millionth song made in the mid-nineties with this cliché song title. Mufi builds the dope backdrop around an ill piano loop and an AZ vocal snippet that our host uses to display his adequate rhyming ability. This one has held up well over the years.

Mindgamez – Nick Wiz hooks up a dark, hard and subdued instrumental with a deep bass line and adds a catchy Buckshot vocal snippet for the hook. Miilk sounds decent on this one, even though he does get a little slothful with the bars that lead into each hook: “My clique is swayze, because I’m gettin’ lazy. What the hell does that even mean? I like the instrumental, but it would have been nice to hear Miilk challenge himself and replace the random freestyle rhymes with something more conceptual that fits the song title and the sick Buckshot sample.

Traffic Jam – Interlude that sets up the next song…

Move Wit’ Da’ Groove – Mufi and someone named Twig are credited for this slightly cheesy synth-heavy backdrop that our host uses to conger up party vibes with light-hearted rhymes. The instrumental does sound a bit generic, but I like its breezy vibes. It makes for great summertime cookout music.

How Ya Like It? – Nick Wiz hooks up a milky smooth (no pun intended) instrumental for Miilk to spit more freestyle rhymes over. He also spits what may be the worst punchline in the history of hip-hop: “I’m buckin’ shots with rocks so lay low, I fucked your bitch in a barn and now she’s really a hey (hay) ho!!!!”. It sounds worse than it reads. The Method Man sample on the hook was a nice added touch to the song.

Freestyle – Over an intense backdrop, Miilkbone and friends warm up for the next song…

Set It Off – Miilkbone invites Nitty, Kandi Kain (yep, the same one from Naughty By Nature’s “Connections”) and Trip to join him on this cipher joint. Kay Gee lays a raw up-tempo instrumental that sounds even better when the sun goes down, and much like she did on “Connections”, Kandi Kain steals the show. I would have loved to hear a full album from her.

Where’z Da’ Party At? – Yep. Another party themed joint. Apparently, this was also the second single from Da’ Miilkrate. Kay Gee gets his second and final production credit of the evening, as he slides our host a feel good instrumental built around a loop from Kool & The Gang’s “Too Hot”. It makes for decent filler material.

Murder Verbs – Miilk invites a few of his buddies to join him on this cipher joint. The liners notes don’t credit any of Miilk’s guests (one of them sound like one of the dudes from the Cruddy Clique), but no worries, no one says anything worthwhile. And Mufi’s instrumental is about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Fast Cash – Interlude to set up the next song…

Kids On The Ave – Miilk uses Mufi’s cinematic-tinged backdrop to share a tale about a struggling rapper who becomes a street pharmacist after being convinced by his drug dealing homeboy to enter the field. And boy does that come back to bite him. Miilk’s storyline was decent, and it was nice to hear him come with a concept and not just bar us to death.

Check Me Out – Mufi and Butch Whip hook up a melodic and mellow instrumental that Miilk uses to continue spewing random freestyle rhymes, including another ridiculously corny punchline: “Your girl rides my dick and that’s the only time I fuck up”. He also revisits the n-word, but this time delivers it as “niggies”. Sm muthafuckin’ h.

Bamma Fam – I’m not sure what this interlude is about, but, whatever.

Ketchrek – Ah, yet another song title named after a cliché mid-nineties hip-hop term, only spelled differently. I don’t know if I’d say Miilk caught wreck on this one, but he does a decent job with it. The Mufi and Butch Whip concocted instrumental is the true star on this one.

It Ain’t The Same – Decent filler material.

2 All Y’all – Mufi’s gives Miilk an emotional instrumental that he uses to rap his shout outs over. I like the instrumental, but it was kind of strange to hear our host shout out his peeps over the somber music.

Hidden Track – Miilkbone tacks on a remix to “Keep It Real” for the album’s official finale. They recycle the AZ vocal snippet from the original, but substitute the piano loop with a harp-like loop and hard-stripped down drums. Miilkbone spits all new verses and in my opinion, delivers his strongest bars of the evening. This was dope.

Miilkbone has a decent flow, but it gets a bit stunted on Da’ Miilkrate due to his poor enunciation and some outrageously corny punchline. On the other hand, our Caucasian friend has no problem enunciating “niggas” and “niggies”, as both words roll off his tongue with ease and come across loud and clear. Overall, the production on Da’ Miilkrate is a solid batch of boom-bap that Miilk uses to display his competent rhyming ability. But with no solid song concepts (with the exception of “Kids On The Ave”), Da’ Miilkrate starts to sound like one long monotonous freestyle. Da’ Miilkrate’s a decent album, but I still feel some type away about him saying “nigga”.

-Deedub

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment