Guru Presents – Illkid Records (November 21, 1995)


I have to start this post off by saying rest in peace to Earl “Dark Man X” Simmons. Thank you for your contributions to the culture and your presence will surely be missed.



The late great Guru will always be remember as the elite emcee with the monotone voice from the legendary duo, Gang Starr. For over a decade, Gang Starr gave the hip-hop world quality output, stringing together an impressive catalog that would cement the duo’s legacy as hip-hop royalty. But in between Gang Starr albums, both Premo and Guru would dabble with their solo side projects. While Premo was busy lacing all of your favorite emcees with brilliant boom-bap beats, Guru was collabing with jazz legends, fusing hip-hop vibes with jazz instrumentation, which would culminate into his Jazzmatazz series, releasing Volume 1 in ’93 and Volume 2 in ’95. 1995 would also see Guru getting into his entrepreneurial bag, as he would launch his independent label, Illkid Records, kicking things off with the compilation album: Guru Presents Illkid Records.

Guru Presents Illkid Records would showcase a bunch of inspiring and up and coming emcees with Guru stepping up to the mic a few times, but mostly playing the background, handling the production with a little help from a few friends. I don’t believe anything ever materialized from Illkid Records (other than an Illkid Records sampler), as even this project was released on the Payday/FFRR label, home to both Gang Starr Foundation artists, Group Home and Jeru The Damaja.

About a year ago, I came across a used cd copy of the album in the dollar bin at one of my favorite record stores, so you know I had to grab it. This post marks my first time listening to.

I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since the late great Guru passed away. Time is truly, illmatic. Continue to rest easy, Keith “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” Elam.

Illkid Intro – This album intro features Guru going under his alter-ego, Bald Head Slick, who raps a bit more aggresive than the laidback monotone style we’re accustom to hearing from Guru. Our host builds his instrumental around the same piano loop Dr. Butcher used for G. Rap’s “4, 5, 6”, and gets off two quick verses over it. Unfortunately, Guru’s Bald Head Slick’s rhymes sound a bit forced and sloppy, and the instrumental sounds empty and hollow.

Wordplay – We were first introduced to Bahamadia on the phenomenal “Respect The Architect” off of Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol.2. What better way to promote her forthcoming debut album, Kollage, than with putting one of the album cuts on this compilation album? Guru hooks up a dope mid-tempo banger with a bodaciously bouncy bass line that Bahamadia uses to showcase her more than capable emcee abilities. This is a great track, and we’ll definitely be digging into her album in the very near future.

Life – Guru constructs a semi-somber, fully mellow backdrop for himself, M.O.P. and the three man crew, Stikken Moov, to take turns rhyming about the struggles and challenges that come with living the street life. If you’re a liner note junkie like myself, you may recognize the name Stikken Moov from the Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 insert, which gives credit to one-third of the group: “Gus Da Vigilante of Stikken Moov” for his verse on “Choice Of Weapons”, but I digress. Guru’s production work is decent and all of the emcees involved turn in adequate verses (even though Guru, who sounds like he’s still in “Bald Head Slick” mode, gets a little sloppy during his verse), but they don’t add anything new or unique to a subject that has been overly treaded through hip-hop’s history, rendering this song average at best.

Do What Pays Ya – Big Shug (not to be confused with Suge Knight) gets a solo joint, as he builds the song’s concept and hook around a part of his verse from Hard To Earn’s “F.A.L.A.”. Carlos Bess (who also contributed to a lot of the production on Jazzmatazz Vol. 2) provides Shug with a soulful mid-tempo instrumental that he uses to celebrate the never ending pursuit of C.R.E.A.M. Shug is not a great lyricist, but he has a knack for assembling simple, but sound bars delivered in his signature deadpan straightforward approach that more often than not amuses and entertains, and he does just that over this dope backdrop. And that’s word to Joe Frazier.

Victim Of Society – Baybe is another artist I first became familiar with from her cameos on Jazzmatazz Vol.2, where she sang the hook and adlibs on “Lifesaver” and “Feel The Music”. Guru rewards her efforts on his previous project by giving her her own song on this compilation. C. Bess (who co-produced “Lifesaver”) slides her an emotional instrumental that sounds reminiscent of the backdrop used for “Lifesaver”, and ironically, Baybe’s theme and content sounds a lot like that of “Lifesaver”. Hmm…maybe she should have titled this one “Lifesaver Part 2”.

Come Clean – Guru sticks Jeru The Damaja’s classic record onto this compilation, which I found extremely weird, considering the song was released as a single two years prior to this project. I guess since Jeru was also signed to Payday Records and a part of the Gang Starr Foundation, the label thought it’s inclusion on this album might help sell a few more units for both projects (that’s all speculation, folks). Regardless, hearing Jeru’s combat ready rhymes over Premo’s ridiculously brilliant instrumental never gets old.

Who’s The Truest – Guru reunites with Wu-Tang affiliate/producer, True Master, who produced a couple of joints on Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 and delivered quality bars on the sultry ode to marijuana: “Medicine”. He wears dual hats on this one as well, as he serves himself up a dusty, but slick backdrop to spew solid scientific bars with his underappreciated flow for one chiseled verse. My only issue with this song is it’s too short and left me wanting to hear more.

Rotten Apple – Guru officially introduces the duo, Operation Ratification to the world on this one (I say “officially” because half of the group, Panchi Da Wild Commachi, added some background vocals to Jazzmatazz Vol. 2‘s “Choice Of Weapon”). Our host slides OR a solid instrumental that they use to share their perspective on life in the streets of New York aka the Rotten Apple. This wasn’t bad, and the more you listen to it the better it sounds.

Hi Energy – I’m assuming Fabidden Fruit was a duo made up of the lead emcee Bu and Mik Rone, who must be the group’s deejay/producer or the B mic that rarely rhymes, as I’ve seen the group name credited on two songs before this (“Revelation” from Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 and “From Within Out” off The D&D Project) and Bu is the only one I’ve heard rhyme. Once again, Bu goes dolo on this one, as he bullies True Master’s rugged backdrop (his partner Mik Rone gets a co-production credit) with his gully bars and tough guy baritone. This one was really good, and I love The D.O.C. vocal snippet on the hook.

Momentum – Guru and Big Shug tag team the mic, slapping emcees and talking their shit over Guru’s simplistic, but slippery slick backdrop. This is a tough record and entertaining as hell.

Attack – Stikken Moov shared the mic with Guru and M.O.P. earlier in the evening (see “Life”), but this time they get their own joint, which finds the threesome in battle mode and a lot more energized than they were their first go round. Someone named Kendu is credited for the solid instrumental (that includes a vocal snippet from Method Man on the hook, adding another cameo credit to his impressive year), as the trio deliver passable verses.

So Called Friends – Guru invites Gang Starr Foundation members, Group Home, to close out this Illkid party. Our host serves them up a decent instrumental, and as usual, Melachi and Dap’s rhymes don’t have much to do with the song title, which also happens to be the hook. I didn’t love or hate this one.

Illkid Records is a far departure from what Guru served up on his first two installments of the Jazzmatazz series, as he, True Master and Carlos Bess replace the experimental jazz soundscapes with more traditional dusty boom-bap east coast beats for this go round. Illkid Records is not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid project that displays flashes of the potential Guru’s crew holds, and amongst the flashes are buried a few hidden gems, and one “what the fuck is this song doing on this album?” moment (see “Come Clean”). Guru will always be remembered for his unique vocal tone, quality rhymes and certified emcee abilities, and while no one will confuse his production work with the phenomenal output of his former Gang Starr partner, DJ Premier, he was no slouch behind the boards, either.


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LL Cool J – Mr. Smith (November 21, 1995)

The last time we heard from Ladies Love Cool James was in 1993 where he could be found screaming on mostly, mediocre instrumentals on his fifth release, 14 Shots To The Dome (you can read my thoughts on all fourteen of those shots right here). The album was a bit uneven, but it would still go on to earn the Hollis Queens emcee a gold plaque, which for most rappers would be a win, but when you’re a hip-hop superstar like LL Cool J, whose first four albums all went platinum, not so much. Never the less, Uncle L would return in 1995 to release his sixth album, Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith would be LL’s first album since Walking With A Panther to not include a Marley Marl produced track, as LL would rely heavily on the Trackmasters to produce the bulk of the load. Mr. Smith would produce three platinum selling singles (all which would reach the top ten on the Billboard Top 100) and return LL to double platinum status, even though the critics gave it mediocre reviews upon its release.

It’s been awhile since I listened to Mr. Smith, but there’s no way it could be as bad as its predecessor.

The Intro (Skit) – The album opens with subtly dramatic chords playing and what sounds like footsteps and chirping birds in the background. Then the Trackmasters bring in the western whistle from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly theme, followed by LL taking a long pull from a cigarette (I’m envisioning a Marlboro) and saying “I can’t believe you didn’t know”, before he bursts into his boisterous and semi-obnoxious laugh. I have no idea what the hell just happened or what the purpose of this skit was.

Make It Hot – The Trackmasters build this slick backdrop around a loop from DeBarge’s “I Like It”, as LL warms up for the evening spittin’ some ole smooth fly shit, and he invites a couple of uncredited ladies to harmonize the hook and add some sexy adlibs (I’m pretty sure it’s Terri & Monica, but we’ll get to them a little later). After the dramatic build up on the intro, I was expecting something with a little more energy, but this was pleasant enough.

Hip Hop – LL keeps the mellow vibes coming, as the Trackmasters lace our host with another laidback silky groove that he uses to reminisce, pay respect to some of the names that helped shape hip-hop, and expresses his love, devotion and appreciation for the genre that molded him into the man he is today. Remember the short-lived late eighties female r&b group, The Gyrlz? Well, when they broke-up, two of the members formed the duet, Terri & Monica, and Terri drops by on this one to sing the hook. I’m sure most of you don’t give a shit about that, but I thought it was a random fun piece of trivia, plus I promised earlier that I would, and I’m a man of my word…sometimes. Anyhoo…this song was pretty dope, and I can definitely appreciate L’s sentiment.

Hey Lover – This was the lead single from Mr. Smith. LL plays a man that’s supposed to have a simple crush on a woman who barely knows he exists, but the more you listen to his story the more he sounds like an obsessed stalker. I mean, how else can you explain his knowledge of her man’s booze and blunt consumption, or him watching her as she stands at the bus stop everyday? Things get even worse during the third verse when he confesses to following said woman to the mall and watches her make a call on a payphone (remember those things?) that leaves him fantasying that he’s on the other end of the call telling her to come over, which leads to him daydreaming that he’s having sex with her, followed by a bunch of poetic bullshit about “pleasure unparalleled”, “ocean of love”, “currents of pure bliss” and “undying passion”. The Trackmasters build a sexy melancholic backdrop around a quick snippet from MJ’s “The Lady In My Life” to complement our host’s lusty lyrics, and he wisely invites Boyz II Men to sing the hook and add smooth adlibs to ensure this single would sell a shit load of copies, while helping the album’s bottom line. Even with LL’s sappy and partially creepy bars, I still enjoyed this one. Mostly for the instrumental and Boyz II Men’s crooning.

Doin It – This was Mr. Smith’s second single. Uncle L invites LeShaun to join him for this raunchy duet, as the two take turns throwing provocative bars back and forth, boasting about what they’re going to do to one another once they get their hands on each other. LeShaun’s sexy delivery (she raps the whole song in an orgasm tone) and alluring hook, accompanied by Rashad Smith’s seductive instrumental is sure to hold your attention and possibly leave you a little sexually aroused. So don’t be embarrassed if you got a stiffy listening to this one (ecspecially if you watched the video). I’m sure you’re not alone.

Life As… – Easy Mo Bee gets his only production credit of the evening, as he provides a funky mid-tempo bop for Cool James to flex all over, as he shows and proves that he still has a few rounds of lyrical ammo left in his rhyme gun. This was dope, even the silly hook worked.

I Shot Ya – This one is a semi-rebuttal to (and definitely inspired by) Biggie’s B-side street hit, “Who Shot Ya?”. The Trackmasters lace LL with the shiniest gully instrumental that I’ve ever heard, as our host attempts to tap into his “Mama Said Knock You Out” energy, while Keith Murray drops in to help hype up the hook. Uncle L does a decent enough job, but the Trackmasters grimy instrumental is the true star of this one.

Mr. Smith – The late Chyskillz get his only production credit of the night, hooking up a mellow bop with a little swing to it, as our host uses it to get into his “real emcee” shit. The hook was corn, but everything else worked.

No Airplay – This one starts with a skit that finds LL hosting the Mr. Smith party, where he’s passing around the microphone to random women to give their shoutouts. After that uselessness concludes, a raw soulful instrumental drops and LL spits, probably his sickest bars of the night, but unfortunately they censor the shit out of his verses (which is kind of ironic, considering the song title and all), making this one nearly impossible to listen to.

Loungin’ – This was the third single released from Mr. Smith, and like the first two singles, it’s aimed to appeal to our host’s heel wearing fanbase. LL goes into mack mode, spittin’ super direct lines at the ladies to get them out of their panties, and I’d be willing to bet that they actually worked (by the way, it’s pretty ill when you can tell a lady “Shorty, this here is bout as good as it gets”, and really mean that shit). Rashad Smith builds the infectious instrumental around an interpolation of Al B. Sure’s “Nite And Day” and turns it into an undeniable groove, while Terri & Monica drop by again to add some extra flavor, seasoning the track with their chill vocals on the hook. This one never gets old to me, and it makes for great summertime music.

Hollis To Hollywood – This one starts with LL rambling about metaphors and “metaphorical freaks” that he seems to feel are suddenly infiltrating hip-hop, which is absurd, since metaphors have been an integral part of an emcee’s rhymes from the beginning, but whatever. He then, in a round about way, announces that the theme of this song will be movies and chicks. It feels like L is trying to ape the formula he used for Mama Said Knock You Out’s “Milky Cereal” (a song that I really like), but his rhymes border on corny (i.e. “She let me dive deep like her panties is Waterworld) and the execution is weak. At least the Trackmasters’s instrumental (built around the same Isaac Hayes loop that Da Beatminerz used for Smith-N-Wessun’s “Stand Strong”) was enjoyable.

God Bless – This wasn’t great or terrible. Just average filler material.

Get Da Drop On ‘Em – And more filler material.

Prelude (Skit) – The Trackmasters bring back the quietly dramatic music from the intro and LL asks the listener a question, all to set up Mr. Smith’s grand finale…

I Shot Ya (Remix) – Our host brings back the instrumental from the original and makes this a cipher affair, inviting Keith Murray (who appeared on the hook of the original), Prodigy of Mobb Deep (which I always found interesting, considering the beef he and Murray had around this time), Fat Joe and Foxy Brown to join in on the fun. Everybody serves up quality bars, but LL makes sure not to be out done by his guests, closing this one out with an impressive verse that’s light years better than anything he spit on the original (Was it really necessary for him to dis Moe Dee, Hammer and Ice-T again?). This was a dope cipher session, and a great way to close out the album.

After his dismal last outing, LL does a pretty solid job of regrouping and regaining his footing on Mr. Smith. Cool James leaves the screaming and yelling in ’93 and locks into a confident, cool and refined flow and delivery, as he nicely balances the album with songs clearly aimed to please the ladies and joints to satisfy and prove to the real heads that he’s still got it. The Trackmasters and company create a cohesive soundscape for Uncle L, mixing respectable r&b-tinged instrumentals with pure hip-hop bops. Mr. Smith does come with a few mediocre moments, but the bulk of it works, making for an overall entertaining listen from one of the best to ever do it.


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Funkmaster Flex Presents: 60 Minutes Of Funk -The Mix Tape Volume 1 (November 21, 1995)

Aston George Taylor Jr. better known to the world as Funkmaster Flex (and more recently to the trimmed down, Funk Flex, which does sound a little more current), has worn many hats through the years, but he’s best known for his legendary run as the groundbreaking deejay at one of New York City’s biggest radio stations, Hot 97.  In 1992, Flex would become the first deejay on Hot 97 (which played strictly pop music before his arrival) to host his own hip-hop show, and nearly thirty years later (through all his controversies), he’s still there hosting his show, playing his mixes and giving us legendary spit fire freestyles from some of our favorite emcees. Flex would also break new ground when he signed a deal with Loud Records and released one of the first retail available hip-hop mixtapes, 60 Minutes Of Funk: The Mixtape Volume 1, in ’95 (the keyword in that last sentence is “retail”…I’m very aware that Flex didn’t invent the mixtape, so no need to learn me a lesson in the comments, folks).

60 Minutes Of Funk would include Flex mixing new material with freestyles from the hottest emcee of the time rapping over some of the hottest beats of the time, along with old school joints and random interludes, all blended together in true mixtape fashion. The album wasn’t a commercial success and it would only rise to 108 on the Billboard Top 200, but it did receive positive reviews from the critics, laying the foundation for Flex’s next four releases, that would all become certified gold, and helped usher in the new wave of DJ mixtapes being released on major labels with major distribution in the late nineties and early two-thousands.

I know the thirty-seven song tracklist looks a little intimidating, but I promise you, this post reads faster than it looks.

Everyday & Everynight – Funkmaster Flex kicks off the show with an r&b joint from the songstress, Yvette Michelle, as she sings about the obsession she has with a certain club deejay, whose mixes just keep her all wet and bothered. Michelle was also signed to Loud, so it makes sense that Flex (her labelmate) would put her first single on this mixtape as free promo. The song title was an interesting choice, but this is still a dope little bop.

Get Up – I had no idea that Louie Vega (whose name has appeared on this blog several times through the years) formed a production team with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez back in the nineties and called themselves Masters At Work. Flex includes a snippet of one of their songs here and it makes for a decent intermission.

Keith Murray & Redman (Freestyle) – The first freestyle of the night features Keith Murray and Redman going toe to toe over the instrumental to Wu Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck”. Even though I’ve heard most of the rhymes that Keith spits on this one used on other songs, he and Red sound loose, hungry and entertaining as hell, as they rip this shit to shreds, setting the bar high for the rest of the freestyles that follow.

Zulu War Chant – Flex mixes in a snippet of an old Afrika Bambaataa record. It still trips me out how far the once highly respected and revered Zulu Nation leader has fallen. Moving on…

Loud Hangover – This was the lead single from 60 Minutes and one of the few new tracks on the album that Flex actually produced. Sadat X and Akinyele team up to flex (no pun intended) on our host’s bangin’ backdrop. Neither party disappoints, but Akinyele completely annihilates this shit.

20 Minute Workout – A snippet from a DJ “Let Me Clear My Throat” Kool record.

Award Tour – Flex plays the first minute and a half of A Tribe Called Quest’s classic record, so you can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Erick Sermon (Freestyle) – Flex matches Erick Sermon up with the instrumental for Warren G’s “Runnin’ Wit No Breaks” (or this instrumental is built around the same loop that Warren used) and a hangry E-Double eats this shit like Thanksgiving dinner. These are the type of Erick Sermon rendition that keep me believing in his ever wavering solo output.

Shook Ones Pt II (A Cappella)/Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit – This one pretty much plays as it reads: It starts off with an accapella version of Prodigy’s first verse from “Shook Ones PT II” and then Flex places the “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit” instrumental under P’s rhymes. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it wasn’t terrible.

Incarcerated Scarfaces – Flex plays a portion of Raekwon’s joint.

Fugees (Freestyle) – L-Boogie and Wyclef freestyle over a drum loop so scarce it’s almost nonexistent. Lauryn kicks things off, giving us a taste of her soulful vocals, before spittin’ a freestyle that’s average at best. Then Wyclef spews his lackluster bars, cementing this as one of the weakest freestyles of the evening (Pras wisely decided to sit this one out). No worries, as the Fugees would bounce back the following year, delivering one of the most revered and commercially successful hip-hop albums of all-time.

20 Minute Workout – Flex brings back the DJ Kool snippet from earlier.

I-Iight – Remember when Doug E. Fresh recycled the “Eric B Is President” beat and made it into his own bop? Of course, the narcissist in Flex chooses to mix in the end of the song where Doug E. throws him a shoutout.

Fat Joe & Punisher (Freestyle) – Fat Joe and Big Pun take on the instrumental to Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” for this one. Joe puts his best foot forward and turns in solid effort (even though most of his rhymes are recycled material from Jealous Ones Envy), while Pun shows up and shows out and sounds a zillion times better than he did on “Watch Out”. This was dope.

Let’s Be Specific – Here’s another one that Flex is credited for producing. Our host invites Cool Whip (another candidate for worst alias), Tragedy (aka Intelligent Hoodlum aka MC Percy aka Tragedy Khadafi…I can keep going), Havoc of Mobb Deep, Raekwon and Freddie Foxxx to take part in this cipher session that turns out to be a celebration of thug life (not 2pac’s group, but the actual lifestyle of a thug). I wasn’t impressed by any of the verses (Havoc lazily recycles most of his verse from “Trife Life”) and Flex’s instrumental is as stale as that bag of Doritos your son left open overnight even after you told his bad ass to make sure to close the bag and put the chip clip on it when he was done.

Hey Girlfriend Promo – Plays as it reads.

900 Number – Flex gives some shoutouts over Mark The 45 King’s classic instrumental.

All For One – Flex plays a portion of Brand Nubian’s classic record.

Party Groove – Flex blends in a snippet of the instrumental for Show & AG’s joint.

Busta Rhymes (Freestyle) – Even though the title only credits Busta Rhymes, his Flipmode bredrin, Rampage The Last Boy Scout also raps on this one. Rampage actually starts things off and does a decent job warming things up for Busta, who was just beginning his legendary hot streak, and he beats the shit out Raekwon’s “Rainy Dayz” instrumental. This one’s definitely in the upper tier of freestyles on the album.

Give Up The Goods (Just Step) – As in Mobb Deep’s classic record. This could also be used for Tribe Degrees of Separation, since Q-Tip produced it. This concludes side one of 60 Minutes, if you’re listening to it on cassette.

Puff Daddy Promo – Yep, you guessed it. It plays exactly as it reads.

Rasta T (Freestyle) – I don’t remember this one. I have absolutely no idea who Rasta T is, nor do I recognize the instrumental he’s rhyming over, but both sound pretty good. If you have more info on Rasta T, hit me in the comments.

Q-Tip (Freestyle) – Instead of trying to impress the listener with potent bars, Tip chooses to use his minute and a half freestyle to shoutout and praise Funkmaster Flex over the instrumental to Tha Alkaholiks’ “Only When I’m Drunk”, rendering this one mediocre at best. But it does complete the first Tribe Degrees of Separation trifecta in the history of TimeIsIllmatic, so that’s a plus, right?

20 Minute Workout – One last DJ Kool snippet…

Puerto Rico – Followed by a short portion of Frankie Cutlass’ biggest record.

Redman & Method Man (Freestyle) – Red gets off his second freestyle of the evening, this time matched up with Meth, as the eternally high duo take on the “Shook Ones II” instrumental. Both emcees turn in solid performances, but it’s nowhere near as sick as the Red/Keith Murray collab from earlier in the evening.

Peter Piper – Flex dedicates this portion of 60 Minutes to the old school, kicking things off with a classic Run DMC record, followed by…

Eric B Is President – A classic Eric B & Rakim record…

Make The Music With Your Mouth – Then a Biz Markie joint, followed by…

Nobody Beats The Biz – Another Biz record…

I Got It Made – Then Special Ed’s classic debut record…

Rock The Bells – Followed by a classic from LL Cool J…

Droppin’ Science – Then Flex caps off this old school segment with this Marley Marl/Craig G collab record.

Kaotic Style (Freestyle) – Like Rasta T, Kaotic Style is another act from the nineties that I don’t remember. Flex loops the opening drum beat solo from Mobb Deep’s “Temperature’s Rising” (another track that Q-Tip produced, so that makes a fourth option for Tribe Degrees of Separation) for the three emcees (from the little information that I could gather on them, Kaotic Style was a duo, so they must of invited one of their homeboys to this party) to rhyme over. Their energy kind of reminds me of Onyx (ecspecially the first cat, who sounds a lot like Big DS (rip)) and they do a decent enough job with this one.

KRS-One Speech – The last freestyle of the night comes from the legendary Blastmaster KRS-One, who is so nice with words he chooses to spit an accapella spoken word piece and still shuts shits down, clobbering emcees and dropping off a few jewels in the process.

Flex Outro – Our host shares some parting words, shouts out the emcees that didn’t make the album due to sample clearance issues (i.e. Smif-N-Wessun, Black Moon, Craig G, Greg Nice, Cella Dwellas and Doug E. Fresh) and sends a thank you to all his haters, before closing the album with his part creepy, part doofy laugh.

It’s been twenty-five plus years since its release, but 60 Minutes Of Funk still sounds as fresh as it did when it originally dropped. Flex masterfully blends (with the exception of a few) dope freestyles from dope emcees matched with some of the greatest hip-hop beats from the golden era, with random, but welcomed interlude breaks, pays homage to the old old school with some classic joints from the eighties and throws in snippets from the current classics just for shits and giggles, all culminating into an enjoyable and entertaining sixty-eight minute listen. Come to think of it, 60 Minutes Of Funk sounds fresher today than it did back in ’95. Oh, how I miss the nineties. These are the moments I wish I could get my Marty McFly on, jump in the DeLorean and go back to that great era.



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Group Home – Livin’ Proof (November 21, 1995)

Group Home is the New York based duo consisting of Melachi The Nutcracker and Lil’ Dap (who we might have to credit for ushering in the “Lil” prefix that would soon become a played out phenomenon in hip-hop), who were a part of the larger collective, Gang Starr Foundation, thanks to their relationship with the late great, Guru. The first time I heard of Group Home was when Lil’ Dap appeared on Gang Starr’s “I’m The Man” off the Daily Operation album; and who will ever forget Melachi’s epic debut on “Words From The Nutcracker” on Hard To Earn? In 1995, Group Home would finally get the chance to shine on their own with the release of their debut album. Livin’ Proof.

One of the biggest perks of being part of the Gang Starr Foundation must be having access to the greatest hip-hop producer off all-time in DJ Premier, and wisely, Group Home calls on Premo to produce all but two of Livin’ Proof’s thirteen tracks. Livin’ Proof would produce three singles, and while the lead single, “Supa Star”, would make a little noise on the underground scene, the album received mediocre reviews and had little commercial success, which would ultimately lead to Group Home parting ways with their label, Payday. They would go on to release four more albums on independent labels, but would never get the chance to shine with the type of exposure a major label provides, and ultimately, would disappear into hip-hop’s black hole, earning a mention on Nas’ 2006 record “Where Are They Now”.

But today are focus is on Livin’ Proof, so let’s jump in to it, shall we?

IntroLivin’ Proof opens with a funky guitar loop placed over scarce drums, and wisely, our hosts refrain from adding rhymes to it and let it shine as the dope instrumental intro that it is.

Inna City Life – Premo laces Dap and Melachi with some blunted-cloudy-atmospheric boom-bap that the duo use to, loosely, represent for the kids in the inner city. This is a dope record that sounds even better when played after the sun goes down.

Livin’ Proof – For the title track, Dap uses Prem’s crisp drums and eerie beeping loop to spit “ghetto rhymes stories”, while Melachi disintegrates, mutilates and penetrates emcees (hey, he said it, not me). It’s not my favorite song on the album, but it’s still solid.

Serious Rap Shit – This one opens with a soft and warm melancholic loop that Group Home uses to let their crew shoutout their deceased homies over. Then Guru gets his only production credit of the evening, and he and Big Shug spit verses along with Melachi, while Dap sticks to hook duties. I love Guru as an emcee and I’m always rooting for and welcoming of a verse from Big Shug, but this beat aint it (are those lasers going off in the instrumental?), and ultimately the song falters.

Suspended In Time – This was the third single released from Livin’ Proof‘ and it’s definitely the album’s magnum opus. Premo serves up a brilliantly mystical instrumental for our hosts, who both sound focused and easily spit their strongest bars of the evening. This masterpiece is followed by a short interlude that features Jeru The Damaja dropping off a few jewels over a heavenly piano loop accompanied by a babbling baby sample that is sure to sooth your soul.

Sacrifice – The song opens with Melachi (sounding like the fourth member of Alvin and The Chipmunks) sharing a few words before giving all his doubters a big middle finger. Then Premo’s dark and rugged backdrop comes in with a Paul Mooney snippet placed over it, setting the scene for Melachi and his homie, Absaloot (whose voice and delivery remind me a little of Nas…shoutout to Esco for the Grammy win!), who pledge to sacrifice their lives for…the street life? The message is perplexing, but both parties entertain over Prem’s nasty production.

Up Against The Wall (Low Budget Mix) – Premo conjures up an instrumental dripping with Kung-Fu flick vibes, as GH discusses the stress and traps that come with the street life, and of course, Melachi gets sidetracked and slips in a few bars aimed at wack emcees. This was dope, and I love the song’s sub-title.

4 Give My Sins – This one starts out sounding like it’s going to be an emotional banger, but after thirty seconds it starts to fade and the listener is left with the sad reality that it was only a short instrumental intermission before the actual song begins. Then a super dry and empty instrumental drops (it’s credited to “Big Jazz”, which I’m assuming is the same Big Jaz aka Jaz-O that gave Jay-Z the “Hawaiian Sophie” fame that Nas once teased him about) and all the weaknesses and flaws in Dap and Melachi’s emcee abilities are exposed without Premo’s marvelous production backing them.

Baby Pa – The first half of this is an interlude that finds a bunch of hyped-up brothers playing ceelo, while tough boom bap drums and an aggressive guitar loop play underneath their energetic exchanges; and just when their exchanges turn into chaos, a calming melodic loop with a baritone voice arrives and bring things to a peaceful closure. The second half is Lil’ Dap getting off a quick verse over Premo’s bangin’ bass line and zig-zagging strings. Dope.

2 Thousand – Premo slides GH some ole smooth creamy shit (the dope stuttering drum effect in between the verses sounds like a crashing computer getting ready to explode), while the duo set their focus on the future…well, past now, but you get my drift. This is another great joint to play in the midnight hour.

Super Star – This was the lead single from Livin’ Proof. Premo laces Dap and Melachi with a soothingly spacey backdrop with dope other world type samples placed throughout, as the duo continue to spew random thoughts with no real theme and throw a meaningless song title on it.

Up Against The Wall (Getaway Car Mix) – This mix uses the same verses as the “Low Budget” mix, but replaces the rawness of the first version with a more chilled-out somber feel, and I enjoyed it. It makes for great rainy day music.

Tha Realness – Melachi sits this one out, as Lil’ Dap is joined by Jack the Ripper and Smiley aka The Ghetto Child to close out Livin’ Proof with this cipher session. Premo’s beat is decent, but a more talented group of emcees could have made it shine a little brighter.

The Group Home won’t “wow” you with their content on Livin’ Proof, as every song pretty much covers the same territory, just the song titles change. Lil’ Dap consistently dishes out steady dosages of hood commentary delivered in his lisped-mutated vocal tone, while Melachi The Nutcracker is more focused on fuckin’ up emcees and every now and then he sprinkles in a few words of wisdom and motivation. Neither of them are top-notch rhymers, but Melachi’s simple flow and straightforward approach (which always sounds like a freestyle) somehow blends well with Dap’s deadpan demeanor and concentrated content. But the backbone, cornerstone, heart and soul of Livin’ Proof is the masterful boom bap production work by DJ Premier, who was in a complete zone during the mid-nineties. So even if you disagree with me and don’t like Group Home’s rhymes and style (which I can completely understand), you’ll definitely enjoy their backing music.


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Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise (November 21, 1995)

The commercial success of Coolio’s debut album, Fantastic Voyage, turned the Compton rapper into a pop sensation, seemingly overnight (although those in the know new about the dues he paid on the underground scene, grinding with WC & The Maad Circle before reaching the proverbial mountain top). Thanks to the lighthearted content of the title track and lead single (and his cartoonish braids), it would earn Coolio a platinum plaque and also help thrust the album to platinum status, while receiving positive reviews from the critics as well (you can read my thoughts on the album by clicking here). Little did the world know (or Coolio) that he was only getting started. Coolio would return the following year with his sophomore effort, Gangsta’s Paradise.

Gangsta’s Paradise would be the second of three albums that Coolio would release during his tenure with Tommy Boy Records. Like Fantastic Voyage, Coolio would use the production by committee formula, which would include beats from some familiar names (like Dobbs The Wino, whose alias I absolutely adore) and a heapin’ helpin’ of production from some new names as well. Thanks largely to the monster title track and lead single, Gangsta’s Paradise would go on to be an even bigger commercial success than its predecessor, selling more than two million units in the states, and the smash hit lead single and title track would earn Coolio a Grammy win for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1996. But more importantly, it received positive reviews from pretty much all the major publications.

I’ll be honest. I loved Coolio during his short stent with WC & The Maad Circle, but felt he had gone too far left when he found pop success with his solo career, so I stopped checking for him. A few years back I found used cd copies of all three of his Tommy Boy releases in the dollar bin, so I figured I give them (and him) a chance, a few decades after their release.

I mostly enjoyed Fantastic Voyage, so let’s see how Gangsta’s Paradise goes.

That’s How It Is – A short intro that finds Coolio and his homie, Talkbox choppin’ it up about their love/hate relationship with the hood (even without trying, Coolio’s comments on this one crack me up), which sets up the next song…

Geto Highlites – Christopher Hamabe and Devon Davis get the production credit on this one and synth the shit out of the Isley Brothers’ “Groove With You” that Coolio uses to highlight the happenings in the hood; it’s kind of like a hood version of those Christmas letters that white people send out to their family and friends. Coolio’s rhymes teeter between comical and sad (sometimes in the same bar), and though they are compelling, the delivery of them (and the hook) sound kind of sloppy and rushed, which is probably because Ras Kass (who is a great lyricist in his own right and credited in the liner notes as a writer on this song) wrote them in his own rapping cadence, which doesn’t suit Coolio very well. Even with all its flaws, this is still a decent song.

Gangsta’s Paradise – If “Fantastic Voyage” made Coolio a star, this song thrust him into superstardom. It was first released earlier in ’95 as the lead single for the Dangerous Minds Soundtrack (and LV, who sings the hook, would also try to cash in on it by putting it on his debut solo album the following year, but unfortunately it didn’t pay off for the chubby crooner). Doug Rasheed liberally borrows from Steve Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” and puts a gangsta twist on it, as Coolio attempts to take the listener on a journey down the dark and hopeless path traveled by a young black man caught up in the street life, and he does a convincing job (which I’m sure wasn’t difficult, since Coolio is on record (literally and figuratively) for being gang-affiliated). This classic record is easily one of the biggest hits in hip-hop history and it still sounds great today.

Too Hot -This was the second single from Gangsta’s Paradise. Dobbs The Wino gets his first production credit of the evening, and not only does he steal borrow the music from Kool & The Gang’s song with the same title, but Coolio brings in the band’s former lead man, JT Taylor to sing the hook for this PSA on safe sex. Now that’s gangsta. Coolio does a great job of driving home his message without sounding preachy, and even though the instrumental isn’t super innovative, I still enjoyed it.

Cruisin’ – Coolio and his guest, Malika do a hip-hop remake of Smokey Robinson’s classic record, as they smoke, drink and fuck, all while cruising through the city streets listening to music. Shaunna D sings the hook and her mediocre rendition doesn’t hold a candle to Smokey’s silky falsetto, but whatever. This was okay, but if it suddenly disappeared from my copy of Gangsta’s Paradise, I wouldn’t miss it; but it would scare the shit out of me.

Exercise Yo’ Game – First cipher of the evening: Coolio is joined by E40 (excuse my chuckle, but whenever I hear his name I think about a hi-larious meme I saw calling him the “most love and respected shitty rapper of all time”), Kam (who turns in the strongest verse during this session) and 40 Thevz, as they take turns stressing the importance of making and stacking your money by any means necessary. I didn’t like the Jay Supreme/DJ Moe instrumental the first few times I listened to it, but it’s slowly growing on me.

Sumpin’ New – This was the third and final single from Gangsta’s Paradise, and it reeks of an intentional crossover attempt that apes “Fantastic Voyage” (so much so that Coolio felt compelled to clarify in the song’s first few bars that “this aint a fantastic voyage”). The song would be nowhere near as commercially successful as the former and adds nothing meaningful to the album.

Smilin’ – Dominic “Romeo” Aldridge, Jammin’ James Carter and Reece Carter are credited with the production credit, as they turn a dope Sly & The Family Stone loop (that QDIII cleverly flipped a few years prior for Justin Warfield’s forgotten classic record, “Season Of The Vic”) into a creamy backdrop that Coolio uses to give a funny and heartfelt dedication to his kids. Someone going by Baby G (who sounds a lot like Bilal) sings the fresh hook and this ends up being a feel good joint that’ll leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Fucc Coolio – Short interlude to set up the next song…

Kinda High Kinda Drunk – Coolio uses the playful backdrop to share an animated tale about meeting up with his homies at a bar, and things get kind of interesting as he drinks, and drinks and patiently awaits their arrival. These are the type of songs that Coolio really shines on, and he doesn’t fail on this one, either.

For My Sistas – Oji Pierce builds the backdrop around an interpolation of an Isley Brothers’ snippet, setting the inspirational mood for our host to pay homage to all the Nubian Queens out there. It was honorable to hear Coolio acknowledge his past transgressions of calling black women “bitches” on records (ironically, later in the album there’s a skit that has a dude calling a sista a “bitch” before shooting her), but something about this song feels contrived.

Is This Me? – Devon Davis, along with Frank “Spade” Cannon on keys and Charles “Charlie Macc” Anderson on bass guitar, lay down a serious smooth groove that Coolio and his guest, Rated R from Thug Life, use to detail their struggle to walk the straight and narrow, while the streets keep calling them back like the crack called Pookie (continue to rest easy, Biggie). I would have loved to hear a Pac verse instead of Rated R on this one (I’m sure Coolio would have too, but he was probably busy serving his sexual assault sentence at the time), but regardless, Coolio’s engaging bars, along with LV’s heartfelt hook sound great over the dope instrumentation.

A Thing Goin’ On – Coolio and Oji Pierce decide to re-work Billy Paul’s classic record, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, as our host raps about him and his mistress’ forbidden relationship (Jeremy Monroe sings the hook, while Stan The Guitar Man adds lovely guitar licks). I can understand if you think this song is corny, but I actually enjoyed Coolio’s re-interpretation of this timeless record.

Bright As The Sun – Oji Pierce creates a bluesy synth backdrop that Coolio uses to issue a warning about the consequences that come with playing with fire in these ghetto streets. Will Wheaton (who sounds almost identical to LV) adds a bluesy hook that makes Coolio’s content resonate even more. This is another one that a Pac cameo would have sounded great on, but as is, it’s still dope.

Recoup This – A short interlude that kind of sets up the next song…

The Revolution – This may be the most militant we ever hear Coolio get on a record (Disclaimer: I’ve never heard the rest of his catalog after this album, so that’s a huge assumption I’m making). Over a bouncy Dobbs The Wino beat, our host is looking to spark the revolution on wax…kind of. Coolio’s verses don’t match the militancy of the hook, but I still enjoyed this one.

Get Up Get Down -Over a solid Dobbs The Wino produced backdrop (that features more guitar and bass play from the legendary Stan “The Guitar Man”), Coolio gets one last cipher session going, as he invites Malika, Leek Ratt, PS, Shorty, Ras Kass and his old partner in rhyme, WC to join him on this one. For the most part, everybody involved holds their own, while Ras Kass makes an impressive first impression with his intricate wordplay and metaphors; and it’s always nice to hear Coolio and Dub-C on wax together.

It’s hard not to like a rapper like Coolio. He rhymes with a charisma and clarity that makes him easy to understand and relate to, and even though he’s not the strongest or most talented lyricist, his bars usually resonate with the listener, and more often than not, they entertain. On Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio checks all those boxes and keeps the listener engaged throughout the album’s seventeen tracks. Gangsta’s Paradise doesn’t have any real cohesion and sounds like a bunch of songs thrown together (which is, at least partially, due to all the different hands in the production pot), but most of the songs work in their grand randomness. Gangsta’s Paradise is a solid follow-up to Fantastic Voyage, and a great return on my dollar investment.





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The Pharcyde – LabCabinCalifornia (November 14, 1995)

The Los Angeles-based quartet, The Pharcyde released their debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in 1992 and, slowly but surely, were able to build up momentum and not only turn the album into a belated critical darling, but also a commercial success, as it would go on to earn the group a gold plaque (you can read my full thoughts on their debut album right here). Three years later, The Pharcyde would return, releasing their sophomore effort, Labcabincalifornia.

The Pharcyde (who were very involved with the debut album’s production) would be responsible for producing about a half of the songs on Labcabin, while a young up and coming kid from Detroit named Jay Dee aka J-Dilla (who would soon become one-third of the production team, The Ummah, along with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad; Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) would produce most of the other half. Labcabin would bear fruit to a couple of hit singles, but was unable to build on the commercial success of their debut, even though it received mostly positive reviews and reception from the fans. Rumor has it that there were some internal issues going on with the group during the recording of Labcabin, which was probably true, since Fatlip would leave the group soon after the album’s release.

Regardless of how you feel about Labcabin, all hip-hop heads can respect it for being the first project to introduce one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all-time to the world. Rest easy, J-Dilla.

Bullshit – The Pharcyde kick things off with a chilled Dilla produced groove, as they encourage the listener to leave all the bullshit behind and enjoy life, and the music currently playing in your ear. Curiously, Fatlip sits this one out and the rest of the team is joined by their homeboy, Suave who adds a fourth verse. Even though it would have been nice to hear all four members together to open the album, this was still dope, and Dilla’s infectious groove is guaranteed to keep your head bobbin’ while you rap/sing along with the catchy hook.

Pharcyde – All four members of The Pharcyde show up for this one to talk their shit and rep for the team over a sufficient Bootie Brown produced backdrop. The hook was trash, but overall this was decent.

Groupie Therapy – The song title is a clever play on words. Diamond D gets his only production credit of the evening, as he provides a dope semi-zany instrumental that The Pharcyde use as their therapist couch to work through their issues with female groupies.  This felt like more of the vibe The Pharcyde was on for Bizarre Ride, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed this one.

Runnin’ – This was the lead single from Labcabin and probably the biggest hit on the album. Jay Dee slides The Cyde a masterpiece of an instrumental (the way Dilla masterfully slices, cuts and stiches together three different loops from an obscure jazzy Samba record for this backdrop is truly impressive) that they use to chop it up about manning up and facing the problems life throws at you. A great message, music and execution is the formula for making a classic record.

She Said – Slimkid’s responsible for this smooth jazzy groove that he and Fatlip use to rap about the objects of their erections. This was dope, but the creamy Dilla remix is way yummier.

Splattitorium – This works as more of an extended interlude than an actual song. On the first half of it, Imani raps and semi-sings praises to Mary Jane over a somberly smooth Dilla instrumental. The second half morphs into Imani scating about a bunch of random nothingness. So just sit back and relax for three minutes (put an L in the sky if that’s your thing) and get lost in the laidback tantalizing vibes of Dilla’s beautiful soundscape.

Somethin’ That Means Somethin’ – Imani sits this one out as the rest of the crew uses this one to spit meaningful lyrics, as the title suggest. All three emcees turn in passable verses, but Dilla’s dope instrumental (once again) is the true star of this one; his disgusting bass line is guaranteed to make you screw your face while you nod your head, heavily.

All Live – A funky little interlude that features a cameo from ODB. Wait…that’s not ODB?

Drop – This was the second single from Labcabin, and if “Runnin'” isn’t the biggest hit from the album this is; and if “Runnin'” isn’t Dilla illest beat on Labcabin, this is. Brown, Slimkid and Imani use Dilla’s brilliant backdrop (that seems to bend, reverse, pause and levitate without missing a beat) to discuss, in a nutshell, wack emcees and losing/selling your soul. This is a timeless bonafide hip-hop classic.

Hey You – I didn’t care much for Slimkid and Imani’s content, but I love Tre’s chilled-out instrumental.

Y? – Bootie Brown concocts a jazzy and somber instrumental (with a co-credit going to Jay Dee) that the group use to spit verses that rhetorically ask why certain things happen during this experience called life. It’s definitely not the strongest song on the album, but I still enjoyed it, mostly for the soothing instrumental.

It’s All Good – This short interlude finds the Pharcyde faux-crooning over some nasty funk guitar riffs and soulful black church organ chords, which makes for a delicious snack in between songs.

Moment In Time – Over a beautiful melancholic instrumental (courtesy of someone named M-Walk), Slimkid shares one quick verse dedicated to all his peeps that passed away, while he and an uncredited female vocalist sandwich his verse with some soothing singing. This one sounds as sad as I remembered it, and I still love it.

The Hustle – The Pharcyde animatedly dedicate this one to all the people out in these streets hustlin’ to make a living. Technically, it’s not The Pharcyde, since the only member of the group to take part in this record is Bootie Brown (who also produced the song), who’s joined by Schmooche, Randy Mac and Big Boy (not to be confused with Big Boi from Outkast, though his presence on this record might have worked, considering the subject matter and all). I didn’t care much for the verses, but the buttery melodic backdrop still sounds very scrumptious.

Little D – Our hosts invite Suave and his six year old son, Little D (there’s a joke in there, but I won’t touch it…and just like that, another door opens to a joke) to the studio to take part in this very uncomfortable interlude that finds The Pharcyde and Suave coaching the little whippersnapper to curse and talk like a pimp, while Slimkid talks to him about picking “up some little kindergarten bitches”. This was not only distasteful, but not funny, either.

Devil Music – Fatlip hooks up an upbeat instrumental with dark overtones, as he, Tre and Bootie Brown take turns abstractly expressing their disdain for the music industry that has them putting their “souls on 2 inch reels that they don’t even own”. It sounds like they weren’t only beefing with each other at the time, but also the label. Regardless, they turn the beef, turmoil and soul selling into a great record with a clever song title that sounds even better when played after midnight.

The E.N.D. – The Pharcyde ends Labcabin with a fitting song title and a creamy melodic groove, courtesy of M-Walk. Slimkid and Fatlip sit this one out, as Imani and Bootie Brown are joined by their homeboy, Kamau and the trio talk about the end times and preparing for it. On paper it sounds kind of bleak, but it’s actually a feel good celebratory record. I could listen to this instrumental to the, um, end of time and never get tired of it.

I’ve heard some criticize Labcabincalifornia for being too mature to the point that The Pharcyde sound boring on the album, but I actually enjoyed this mature and wiser version of the group more than the animated and whimsical feel they gave us on the Bizarre Ride. Not only did The Pharcyde’s rhymes mature since Bizarre Ride, but the instrumentals also blossomed, and though the bulk of them have a more somber and darker feel than their debut, they also sound more layered and complete, which can largely be credited to the production presence of Jay Dee. Like most albums, there are a few joints that could have been left on the cutting room floor, but the thought-provoking content coupled with the phenomenal batch of instrumentals makes Labcabincalifornia a great sophomore effort from The Pharcyde, and song for song, a stronger album that it’s predecessor.




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Beastie Boys – Aglio E Olio (November 13, 1995)

The last time we heard from the Beastie Boys was in May of ’95 with their money grab EP, Root Down, which even though it seemed ridiculous to put together a whole EP based around a single from an album released a year prior (it also felt like a desperate attempt to keep the Beastie buzz going, which is kind of ironic coming from a group that regularly took three year breaks in between albums), it actually wasn’t bad, even if it didn’t bring anything new or beneficial to the table (you can read my complete analysis of the Root  Down EP riiiight here). So what would the Beastie Boys do next? Yep, you guessed it. Slap us in the face with another EP.

Aglio E Olio, which literally means “olive oil and garlic” in Italian, is an eight song, eleven minute long EP that finds the Beastie Boys returning to their punk rock roots. I’ve never listened to Aglio E Olio before today and none of the songs on the tracklist look familiar, so hopefully the music sounds better than the cheesy artwork looks.

Brand NewAglio E Olio begins with frantic guitar licks and intense drums that BB use to scream the hook, while Ad-Rock semi-raps the same verse twice and they slide in a few brash guitar solos. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it wasn’t terrible.

Deal With It – This one starts off sounding like it’s going to be a deep groove driven by guitar licks. Then reality sets in and our hosts continue to rock out and yell the life out of their larynxes. I actually read the lyrics on while listening, and the song actually has some decent lyrics. It’s too bad everything else about the song sucked.

Believe Me – Next…

Nervous Assistant – Whether rhyming over beat breaks or screaming over rock riffs, the Beastie Boys are consistent about one thing: it’s nearly impossible to make out what the hell they’re saying.

Square Wave In Unison – This shit is giving me a headache.

You Catch A Bad One – Be right back…gotta grab my bottle of Advil.

I Cant Think Straight – Ad-Rock rhymes over another Beastie mash up that all sounds like a bunch of noise.

I Want Some – The last song on Aglio E Olio features…yep, you guessed it: More loud rock guitar riffs, intense drums and BB screaming all over them. I kind of enjoyed the chord change during the bridge of this song, but other than that, there’s not much to see here, folks. Apparently, there were some versions of Aglio E Olio released with two bonus songs: “Soba Violence” and “Light My Fire”. Thank God, my copy doesn’t have those bonus tracks, so I can end this write up right now.

Since I’m not a fan of rock and even less of punk, I was hoping that the Boys Beastie would put a hip-hop spin on their original chosen genre, but they didn’t. Aglio E Olio is eleven minutes of the Beastie Boys screaming uncontrolled and unintelligibly over loud repetitive guitar riffs and drums, and this eleven minutes felt like eternity; a very unenjoyable eternity. Needless to say, Aglio E Olio is not my cup of tea, garlic water or bottle of olive oil.


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Goodie Mob – Soul Food (November 7, 1995)

Homage must be paid to Outkast, whose 1994 debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’s critical acclaim and commercial success helped open the door for other Southern emcees and forced the rest of hip-hop to start to take the south serious, because, as 3 Stacks so eloquently put it at the 1995 Source Awards: “The south got something to say”. One of the beneficiaries of Outkast’s toil and labor would be their Dungeon Family brothers, Goodie Mob, who also had something to say. We first heard from the Atlanta-based foursome of Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo on Outkast’s debut, as they would all make cameos and eventually, they would also sign to LaFace Records, releasing their debut album, Soul Food, in November of ’95.

Just like their Outkast bredrin, Goodie Mob would call on Organized Noize to produce the entire album (with a little outside help, of course) and 3K and Big Boi would make cameo appearances on the album as well. Soul Food received positive reviews and Goodie Mob would follow in the commercial success of Outkast, as the album would earn the foursome a gold plaque.

I haven’t listen to Soul Food from beginning to end in a long time, so let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

FreeSoul Food opens with some bluesy chords that a stacked vocaled Cee-Lo uses to wearily sing from the pain deep in his soul, expressing his desire to experience true freedom. This may be the most heartfelt intro in hip-hop history.

Thought Process – Organized Noize creates an airy semi-sorrowful backdrop and each member of Goodie Mob gets a chance to share their feelings on the stress, drama and bullshit that comes with being a young black man in America. Cee-Lo gets off a stellar verse, and even out-rhymes his guest, Andre 3000 (granted, 3 Stacks was just entering his soul searching introspective stage and hadn’t fully completed his metamorphosis into the alien that would destroy every earthling instrumental thrown at him, but it’s still an impressive feat). This is one of my favorite Goodie Mob records and it has aged very well. Fine wine.

Red Dog – Short interlude to set up the next song…

Dirty South – Most of Goodie Mob sits this one out and Big Gipp is joined by Big Boi and Dungeon Family affiliate, Cool Breeze on this ode to drug dealing in the dirty south. I’m assuming, since 3 Stacks got a cameo on the previous song, GM felt they had to let Big Boi get a verse off as well; that is the only explanation I can come up with for them forcing his pimp-laden rhymes that have nothing to do with the subject at hand into this song. Regardless, the instrumental is hard, the hook is catchy and this song introduced me to one of the funniest slang terms of all-time, “Clampetts” (in reference to Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies): a term Goodie uses to call redneck white dudes.

Cell Therapy – I just found out going into this post that this was the first single from Soul Food, even though I don’t remember hearing it on the radio or ever seeing the video get played back in the day. Regardless, Goodie uses the semi-creepy backdrop to discuss conspiracy theories and The New World Order. Once again, Cee-Lo gets off the best verse, and the catchy hook brings some levity to help break up GM’s heavy content. All in all, this was dope.

Sesame Street – The Sesame Street that Goodie Mob’s talking about isn’t the same pure and innocent street that Big Bird and his crew sung cute songs about letters, words and numbers on. Instead, their Sesame Street is filled with memories (or nightmares) of the drugs, violence and poverty that framed their childhoods. With some help from a tasty Organized bop, our hosts take their pain and turn it into a dope song. I completely forgot about this one, but it was a pleasant reacquaintance.

Guess Who – Organized constructs an emotionally intense backdrop and each of the Mob members gets off a heartfelt verse of both fond and painful memories about their mamas. I’ve always loved this song, and it hits a little stronger since losing my own mother recently.  Rest in peace, Barbara Jean.

Serenity Prayer – It plays just as it reads: GM recites the serenity prayer in unisons.

Fighting – And the struggle continues: Over a bleak backwoods backdrop (it’s so deep in the woods that if you listen close enough you can actually hear crickets in the background of the instrumental) our hosts address the real struggle, which is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Check out Ephesians 6:12 for more); and of course they put their abstract southern twist on it. Speaking of struggle, the normally vocally on point songstress, Joi struggles to find her footing and sounds like she might be singing in the wrong key or maybe the out of key singing was all a part of the plan to play off the song title. At the end of the song, Cee-Lo admits he didn’t write a verse for this song and then pulls out his soapbox to preach a nearly two minute sermon calling for brothers to be accountable and take responsibility for their actions. He also reveals the semi-ridiculous acronym hidden within the name “Goodie Mob”. Cee-Lo makes some good points, but I’d much rather hear him singing and rapping than preaching. This song has too much substance to call it filler material, but the material presented wasn’t enough to fill me up.

Blood – Over mellow piano chords and subdued drums, Cee-Lo kicks a quick refrain calling for unity in the black community and an end to black on black violence. Goodie Mob would eventually turn this short interlude into a full-fledged song that would appear on the America Is Dying Slowly compilation album, released in 1996.

Live At The O.M.N.I. – OMNI has double meaning in this song: For you young bucks, The Omni Coliseum was the place the Atlanta Hawks called home up until 1997 ; the Goodie Mob, who are also from Atlanta, use it as an acronym for “One Million Niggas Inside”, which is their militant acknowledgement of unity and the power in numbers. This isn’t my favorite song on Soul Food, but it’s still a decent audible bop to chew on.

Goodie Bag – Organized builds this backdrop around a sexy guitar lick that Khujo, Big Gipp and T-Mo use to give us more substance, while Cee-Lo takes off his shirt and lets all his flab hang out, as he talks his shit and kicks a true freestyle at the end of his verse and still walks away with the strongest bars. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Soul Food.

Soul Food – This title track was also the lead single from the album. Our hosts go back and forth referencing the literal and figurative food that has fed their souls through the years over a deep southern fried funk Organized Noize groove. Undeniable classic.

Funeral -Short interlude that sets up the next song…

I Didn’t Ask To Come – Organized Noize places emotional strings over pulsating drums that Goodie Mob uses to discuss the seemingly never ending cycle of their homies being murdered in the Atlanta streets. The song is punctuated by the heartfelt hook that has the foursome contemplating their own mortality and wrestling with their frustration and anxiety with death (“I struggle and fight to stay alive, hoping that one day I’ve earned the chance to die…pallbearer to this one, pallbearer to that one, can’t seem to get a grip, cause my palms is sweatin'”), which includes another powerful verse from Cee-Lo. If this song doesn’t touch your soul, you might need to be checked for a pulse.

Rico -Short interlude to set up the next song…

The Coming – Goodie Mob invites their homeboy, Witch Doctor to chant the hook and add a verse along with theirs, as they collectively attempt to start the revolution over some funky instrumentation, driven by Colin Wolfe’s dense bass play.

Cee-Lo -Cee-Lo briefly talks about how God is working through cracker’s white folk’s evil deeds in order to…help black people?? I don’t quite agree (or understand) his theory, but at least he kept it short.

The Day After – The last song of the evening finds Goodie Mob discussing death and what comes after they’ve completed their journey here on earth. Much like our hosts’ content, Organized Noize’s instrumental sounds dark, sad, triumphant and beautiful all at the same time, while Cee-Lo and the guest female vocalist, Roni’s soul-touching-church-fueled singing on the hook are the glue that hold this song together. This makes for the perfect ending for an album packed with so much meaty material.

Soul Food lives up to its name, as Goodie Mob doesn’t waste any time with fluff or nonsense, but instead, they use every track to dish out a heapin’ helpin’ of substance and food for thought. It’s not an easy feat to feed a hip-hop audience this much consciousness for an entire album and make it sound entertaining, but Goodie Mob manages to pull it off with only a few visible scratches left on them. It’s clear from the jump that Cee-Lo is the Goodie that makes this Mob go, as his potent thought-provoking rhymes packaged in his colorful voice and delivery (and when you factor in his ability to bolt out soul-stirring notes, it’s no surprise that he would soon become the break out star of the team) keep this boat afloat, while the other three do a serviceable job patching in a hole he might have missed here or there. Organized Noize provides a quality batch of instrumentals rich in protein, calcium, minerals and calories that help Soul Food‘s meaty messages stick to your ribs and at the same time entertain.


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Genius/Gza – Liquid Swords (November 7, 1995)

During the mid-nineties, the Wu-Tang Clan could do no wrong. After releasing their classic 1993 debut album (Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), the group members decided to venture out and do solo and side projects: Rza would be the first, forming the horrorcore group, Gravediggaz, followed by Meth, Ol Dirty Bastard and Raekwon, who all released solo albums (well, OBFCL was more like a Rae/Ghostface collaborative effort, but you get where I’m going) that were not only critically acclaimed and respected by the streets, but also commercially successful as well. Next up to bat would be the Genius aka Gza.

This wouldn’t be Gza first go round, as he actually had a deal with Cold Chillin’ and released an album (Words From The Genius) way before the Wu-Tang experience would begin (you can read my thoughts on his first solo album here). After his solo album failed commercially, Gza would leave Cold Chillin’ and literally, regroup, along with the Rza (who also had a short-lived solo run with Tommy Boy), forming the Wu-Tang Clan, and the rest is history. Gza would try his solo luck again, this time with Geffen, releasing Liquid Swords almost to the date of Enter The Wu-Tang’s two year anniversary.

Like all the rest of the Wu-Tang’s solo projects before it, Rza would be at the helm sculpting the sonics of Liquid Swords, and it would also come with a heavy dose of pop-up cameos from the other clan members. Liquid Swords would go on to earn Gza a gold plaque (and nearly 20 years later it would get certified platinum) and many consider it to be the best solo album out of all the Wu-Tang Clan solo releases.

Let’s get into Liquid Swords and see how it’s held up over the past 25 years.

Liquid Swords – The album begins with a snippet from the 1980 Kung-Fu flick, Shogun Assassin (A movie I was finally able to watch on my Fire Stick this week. It’s not a great movie, and the “spraying blood” scenes are almost laughable, but it was still cool to watch, just to see where Rza got most of the interludes for this album from). Then Rza drops the nasty Willie Mitchell loop to create the backbone for this triumphant sounding backdrop that Gza meticulously picks a part with his precise rhymes: “I don’t waste ink, nigga, I think, I drop megaton bombs more faster than you blink, cause rhyme thoughts travel at a tremendous speed, do clouds of smoke of natural blends of weed”. Add
Rza and Gza’s catchy hook, and you’ve got a great opening track and a bonafide classic record.

Duel Of The Iron Mic – After another snippet from Shogun Assassin plays (which is supposed to set up this song), Rza brings the energy from the previous track down a few levels, as Gza is joined by Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck to take part in, what is supposed to be, a lyrical duel. Apparently, Gza didn’t tell his guests about the song’s concept, and they end up spittin’ random street tales instead of battle rhymes. ODB must have gotten the message, though, as he does a great job hyping up the duel that never happened during the hook. This wasn’t terrible, but it was a bit disappointing.

Living In The World Today – The song title is a bit misleading and might make you think this is a serious song that tackles the social ills of the inner city, but it doesn’t. It’s just Gza spittin’ more well-constructed bars (and I literally mean well-constructed…he actually uses “sheetrock to sound proof the beatbox”) over a dope Rza backdrop, while Meth drops in to spit a quick pre-verse and helps out with the overly wordy hook. Even with the hook being a bit much, this still made for an entertaining listen.

Gold – The song opens with a dope dealer (played by Meth) barking at his rivals and claiming his territory, before Rza drops his dusty banger (it starts with a few hiccups that he quickly cleans up) that Gza uses to paint a detailed picture of the drug game through the lens of the dealer. Genius doesn’t cover any new territory here (I mean, he had a song called “Life Of A Drug Dealer” on the Words From The Genius album), but he still manages to make it his own and keeps it entertaining.

Cold World – I believe this was the second single off Liquid Swords. It starts with another snippet from Shogun Assassin, then Rza’s weary-melancholic instrumental comes in and Gza and Inspectah Deck take turns sharing stories about the drugs and violence that destroy the inner city. Rza invites his homey, Life (who rips a portion Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love”) to sing the hook and he fails, miserably. I didn’t like this song back in the day and I’m still not crazy about it, but the instrumental is starting to grow on me, even though Life still sounds horrid on the hook.

Labels – Our host gets clever and puts together a whole verse referencing different record labels: “Tommy ain’t my muthafuckin’ boy, when you fake moves on a nigga you employ, We’ll all emerge off your set, now you know goddamn, I show livin’ large niggas how to flip a Def Jam.” Rza’s instrumental is simple, but potent, and it suits Gza’s song concept, well.

4th Chamber – Yep, you guessed it! Another Shogun Assassin snippet. Then Rza brings in some out of control synth chords, accompanied by vibrating guitar licks and steady drums that make for an epic banger. Ghostface goes first and gets off an entertaining opening verse (I love the line: “The kid holds white shit like blacks rock ashy legs”), followed by dope bars from Killah Priest, Rza and our poised host who closes things out with another well-written verse: “Woofers thump, tweeters hiss like air pumps, Rza shaved the track, niggas caught razor bumps, scarred trying to figure who invented, this unprecedented, opium-scented, dark-tinted”. From top to bottom, this was brilliant.

Shadowboxin’ – Speaking of brilliant: Meth drops by again, but this time he actually gets off a couple of verses, as he and Gza verbally spar over a funky and soulful little Rza diddley. Gza definitely has the stronger rhymes, but Meth, who has one of the best voices and flows in hip-hop history, wins in every other category, so I’m giving this one to Meth, and you can chalk this up as another great record on Liquid Swords.

Hell’s Wind Staff/Killah Hills10304 – The first half of this is a skit that finds the Rza negotiating a drug deal with a Mr. Greco, and ends with Rza alleging that Greco is an associate of the neighborhood snitch, Don Rodriguez. The second half features a bangin’ mid-tempo backdrop that Gza uses to spit one long verse about drugs, money, a wild middle eastern named Muhammad (who happens to specialize in putting bombs in champagne bottles), drugs, money, the Feds, bribes…did I mention drugs and money? I absolutely love Rza’s semi-zany partially orchestra-sounding instrumental, and “Hell’s Wind Staff” might be the illest name for a skit/interlude in hip-hop history.

Investigative Reports – Rza concocts a serious sounding symphonic soundscape (tongue twister muchers!), embedded with news excerpts in between verses, and Genius is joined by Raekwon and Ghostface on the mic, as they each get off a verse and share their analysis of the streets, while U-God is left to handle hook duties (Does a “Mocha toker” smoke coffee beans?). Ghost’s colorful stream of consciousness style is on full display, and he easily walks away victorious on this one. Yet another quality song on Liquid Swords impressive tracklist.

Swordsman – Gza uses this one to shit on denounce Christianity, promote 5 Percent Teachings, travels back in time and walks in the shoes of an African slave and scolds those who claim to be 5 percenters, but are really “lip professin’ ass niggas” who “can’t feed they own seeds” (I love that bar). Rza hooks up a roughly melodic loop and places it over clunky drums that all work well behind Gza’s lesson.

I Gotcha Back – This was the lead single from Liquid Swords that was originally released a year prior as the lead single for the Fresh Soundtrack (a movie I’ve still never seen). Gza shares commentary from the harsh streets of the hood over Rza’s dark and chilly backdrop, followed by one last Shogun Assassin soundbite. After 25 plus years, this one still sounds amazing.

B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth) – This was originally released as a bonus track on the CD version of Liquid Swords. 4th Disciple hooks up an emotional backdrop that Killah Priest uses to go dolo, as he discusses the bible, church, religion and truth. This makes for a meaty finale, but was a nice way to close Liquid Swords.

Gza may not be as colorful or animated as the Rza or Old Dirty Bastard; or as charismatic as Rae and Ghostface, and his voice may not be as distinguished or his flow as refined as Meth’s, but he is probably the sharpest lyricists in the Clan. That sharpness is on full display throughout Liquid Swords, as he shreds Rza’s dusty batch of bangin’ backdrops and gets some help from his fellow clansmen, who turn in some dynamic cameos (Liquid Swords is actually the first Wu solo album that all nine original Wu members make cameos on). There are a couple of songs on Liquid Swords that waiver a bit, and the album would probably benefit from a remixing and remastering, but as is, it’s still a damn near flawless album. And if it’s not the best Wu-solo album, in the most heterosexual way I can say this: it can definitely stand sword for sword with the best.


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Erick Sermon – Double Or Nothing (November 7, 1995)

I’ll get straight to the point, because life is short and time is valuable: Erick Sermon’s debut solo album, No Pressure, was a lukewarm mess. With three or four dope songs buried in a slew of mediocrity and trash (Sorry Sway, I know you hate the “T” word, but it is what it is), to call NP a disappointment would be an understatement. Regardless of how poorly the album performed, both commercially and critically, Def Jam would give the Green-eyed Bandit a second chance, as he would return in ’95 with his cleverly titled follow-up, Double Or Nothing.

Erick was pretty much single handily responsible for the dismal production on NP, so this time around he would call on a few helping hands to produce or co-produce about half of Double Or Nothing. The album would produce a couple of singles that made a little noise, and DON would climb to 35 on the Billboard Top 200 and 6 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. More importantly, it received much better reviews from the critics and a warmer reception from E’s fans.

I haven’t listen to Double Or Nothing in a hot minute, so this should be a fun refresher.

Intro (Skit) – Similar to NP, DON begins with E-Double being bombarded by the press, and one reporter is brave enough to tell him to his face that No Pressure was a “brick”, which means “a flop” for you young heads. Erick gracefully brushes the jerk reporter off with a slight chuckle and keeps things moving, right into the next song…

Bomdigi – This was the lead single from DON. E-Dub hooks up an upbeat backdrop (a co-productiion credit is given to Sugarless aka Ty Fyffe) with a little swing to it that he uses to have some fun, spittin’ freestyles rhymes (his line about being “more doper than Janet Jackson’s stomach” was weird, dope and grammatically incorrect, all at the same time). This wasn’t a great song, but it makes for a cool warm up for the rest of the evening.

Freak Out – Our host invites his Def Squad bredrin, Redman to join him on this duet, as the two take turns spittin’ fairly quality bars. Unfortunately, Rod “KP” Kirkpatrick’s instrumental (with a co-credit going to Erick) sounds like a bunch of unorganized unenjoyable noise.

In The Heat – This may be the dumbest song concept in the history of hip-hop. Erick rhymes from the perspective of his friend, Ooh Wop, who apparently overheard a guy and a girl talking shit about E-Double at a bar one night. Ooh Wop then takes it upon himself to wait for the couple to leave the bar where he confronts them, pistol whips the dude and threatens to strip him, blast him, extort him and…buy him (???) if he ever catches his now woozy victim mentioning E’s name again. Sounds more like what a lover would do to defend your honor than a homeboy. Terrible concept with a horrible ending and a boring beat.

Tell ‘Em – Our host cooks up a simple low-key groove (with some help from KP) and invites Keith Murray and Redman’s sister, Roz to join him on this cipher session. The song title and concept are loosely built around the closing bar from Keith’s impressive verse from “Hostile” that introduced Mr. Murray to the world. E kicks things off with some decent bars, Roz follows with a pretty impressive debut verse, and Keith finally shares the complete verse we first heard him spit pieces of on the “K. Murray Interlude” from Mary J’s classic My Life album, and he doesn’t disappoint. This is a dope record and one of the best cipher joints from ’95.

In The Studio – Erick Sermon’s sister (Kim) gets off a quick verse on this skit. For a minute I thought she was Hurricane G, but nope. She just happens to sound as mediocre as the former.

Boy Meets World – Rockwilder lays a melodically melancholic instrumental (and of course Erick is credited with lending a helping hand) that E-Double uses to boast, briefly get introspective and shouts out Tip and Phife in the song’s opening bars (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Speaking of ATCQ, Rockwilder’s instrumental is built around the same Crusaders sample that they used for the “Lyrics To Go (Tumblin’ Dice Remix)”. I could have done without Rockwilder’s random rambling at the end of the song, but that small mishap doesn’t distract from the serene vibes that the chill moody music creates.

Welcome – This was DON‘s second single. Erick drops filler rhymes with no real direction, while Keith hypes up the party with an energetic hook and Guy’s former lead man, Charlie Wilson Aaron Hall, fills in the gaps (no pun intended) with his gospel-esque vocal tone over a decent Rockwilder instrumental that sounds like it’s swimming underwater. I usually love Aaron’s voice, but it sounds wasted and kind of annoying on this track. That said, this was still a decent record.

Live In The Backyard (Skit) – This was mildly entertaining. E-Dub sings the blues on this skit, and he actually doesn’t sound that bad. Shout out to the late B.B. King.

Set It Off – I’m not feeling this one. And Keith Murray’s closing rant was beyond annoying.

Focus – This instrumental sounds more like the type of East Coast funk that Double Or Nothing would have benefited from. The Green-eyed bandit uses his rough backdrop to rep for New York, and even calls out his own coast for biting the left side: “Only West Coast was kickin’ that shootin’ cops, fuck that bitch shit, now we all on they dick, I represent “The Bridge Is Over”, “Eric B For President”, gettin’ “Raw”, Rockin’ Bells and “Raising Hell””. E-Double sounds rejuvenated and um, focused on this one. This was dope.

Move On – E-Double (with another co-credit going to Sugarless) hooks up a smooth-warm-feel good backdrop, and invites Redman and Passion to jump on this joint with him. Red gets first dibs and completely spazzes out with easily his strongest performance of the evening, while E and Passion are left to work with the microphone fragments that Reggie leaves behind, and they both still turn in solid verses. This is definitely one of my favorites from DON, and it sounds just as great as I remembered it.

Smooth Thought (Skit) – A short hood PSA that has absolutely no replay value.

Do Your Thing – Redman (with a co-credit going to Erick) hooks up an airy mid-tempo backdrop that finds the Green-eyed bandit in party mode and sharing the details of a night out on the town with his crew. The Aaron Hall vocal snippets laced throughout the song sound like they may have been leftovers from “Welcome”, but they sound great placed in this infectious groove.

Man Above – E-Double sets the mellow mood with this laidback jazzish bop with a bass line that’s perfectly thick, much like Ashanti’s golden well-sculpted thighs (yum). Speaking of Ashanti, E uses the dope backdrop to discuss his pursuit of beautiful ladies. Jazze Pha borrows and sings Snoop’s classic “Gin & Juice” line for the hook and it sounds perfect over Erick’s delectable instrumental.

The Message (Skit) – Tone Capone drops in to discuss “a lot of niggas out there that just be talkin’ for nothin'”, which is exactly what he does during this useless fifty second interlude.

Open Fire – Mr. Sermon invites his Def Squad cronies, Keith Murray and Redman, to join him on DON’s grand finale, and it ends up being anything but grand. All three emcees fail to impress with their verses and the barely audible instrumental sounds as dull as your grandma’s fifty year old knife set.

Sometimes a little help from friends can go a long way, and thanks to some of Erick’s buds helping out behind the boards and on the mic, Double Or Nothing ends up being a pretty enjoyable experience. Erick shies away from the hollow funk beats he tried to force down our throats for most of No Pressure and choses to go with a softer, melodic and airy sound for most of DON, with mostly positive results. The ebb and flow of E-Double’s rhymes are apparent throughout DON, as he sounds locked in at certain points (i.e. “Tell ‘Em”, “Boy Meets World”, “Focus” and “Move On”) and like he’s just trying to make it through at other moments (“Bomdigi”, “In The Heat”, “Welcome” and “Open Fire”), while his Def Squad crew are hit and miss as well (speaking of hit and miss, it just dawned on me (no pun intended) that Jamal didn’t make any cameos on DON…hmmm). DON doesn’t have any real cohesion, but instead sounds like a bunch of songs thrown together on one album. Fortunately, most of the songs work and DON fares much better than the debacle that was No Pressure. 



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