Scarface – The Diary (October 18, 1994)

If you haven’t noticed by now, I normally only post on Tuesdays (as a tribute to the good old days when you had to walk, drive or ride the bus to your favorite music store to buy a physical copy of the new releases), but when I finished this post and noticed that The Diary was released 25 years ago to the date, I figured I’d make an exception. I hope you enjoy. 

Also, rest in peace to my beloved mama dukes, Barbara Jean Washington. I love and miss you like crazy, girl! 

By 1994 Scarface already had two gold selling solo albums and a platinum selling group album with the Geto Boys under his belt. His solo success (and the group’s success) helped to establish J. Prince’s Rap-A-Lot Records as a force to be reckoned with, and made Scarface a viable candidate for King of The South. The Texas born rapper would return at the end of 1994 with his third solo release, The Diary.

Along with Face, N.O. Joe would return to help with The Diary‘s production. Face would enlist Uncle Eddie and a young Mike Dean to sonically help sculpt the album as well. The Diary would be Face’s first solo album to earn him a platinum plaque and many fans and critics called it his best work and a classic. The Source originally gave it a 4 Mic Rating, but later went back and gave it 5 mics.

Is The Diary worthy of such praise? Let’s dig into…

IntroThe Diary opens with a dark symphonic instrumental that sent chills up my spine the first time I heard it. Then after about a minute, the soul stirring music is interrupted by gun shots and the first song begins…

The White Sheet – The first song of the evening finds Scarface in a violent state, as he lets everybody who thinks he’s an easy target know that he stays prepared for the jump off: “I aint your muthafuckin’ homeboy, you out of pocket when you fuckin’ with me so now it’s on boy, I aint runnin’ to get my shit like these other bustas, when you see me round this bitch I got that muthafucka”. Scarface sounds hungry and believable, the hook is catchy, and the cool mid-tempo groove sounds great backing him up.

No Tears – Over some southern fried production, Face is seeking vengeance on the sucka who killed one of his homeboys: “Lookin’ for the nigga who pulled his pistol on my homie, an eye for an eye, so now your life is what you owe me, look deep into the eyes of your muthafuckin killer, I want you to witness your muthafuckin’ murder nigga, and since you wants to kill then yo’ ass has got to fry, but aint no police, therefore yo’ ass has got to die.” Our host effectively drives home his point with one long verse. Well done, Brad.

Jesse James – After a quick piano solo, Face gets right back to The Diary‘s violent tone, as he recycles and dresses up the instrumental first used for “The Wall” on The World Is Yours to back his lyrical murder spree. Face’s angry aggressive flow sounds great, but he loses a few cool points for reusing this instrumental.

G’s – Face and company hook up a decent West Coastish sounding backdrop, as our host asks on the hook and answers on his verses, what do you see while riding through the hood? Face made me let off a guilty chuckle when he says “Cause I done been to more wakes in this past year, then the muthafuckin’ Bengals lost last year” during his second verse. This makes for decent filler material.

I Seen A Man Die – This was the lead single from The Diary. Over an eerie, emotional but dope groove, Face continues to speak on one of his favorite topics: death. Usually when the subject comes up in Brad’s raps, it about him killing somebody. This time he goes in-depth with the details surrounding the last moments of a man’s life and what happens afterwards: “I hear you breathin’ but your heart no longer sounds strong, but you kinda scared of dyin’ so you hold on, and you keep on blackin’ out and your pulse is low, stop tryna fight the reaper just relax and let it go, because there’s no way you can fight it but you’ll still try, and you can try it ’til you fight it but you’ll still die, your spirit leaves your body and your mind clears, the rigor mortis starts to set now you outta here”. When you add Face’s deadpan storytelling cadence to his chilling bars, you get, arguably, the best rhymes in Scarface’s entire catalog. This is an undeniable classic that may be worthy of a spot on the top twenty hip-hop songs of all-time list.

One – Once again Face and company recycle an instrumental from The World Is Yours. This time they reuse and jazz up the backdrop for “Lettin’ Em Know”. I definitely enjoyed the rawness of “Lettin’ Em Know” more than the cheesy feel this version lets off.

Goin’ Down – Face takes a brief break away from the violent themes that have been prevalent throughout the album to this point (and pretty much his whole career), because even cold blooded murdering gangsters need lovin’. The object of Brad’s erection just so happens to be one of his homeboy’s baby’s mama, that he lamely justifies creeping with by saying “My homies women aint no thang to me, cause if they caught one of my hoes they’d do the same to me”. I found Face’s commentary comical, but overall the song was kind of weak.

One Time – Not to be confused with the “One Time” interlude from The World Is Yours, but this is yet another interlude with police chatter playing over an emotional instrumental.

Hand Of The Dead Body – This was the second single from The Diary. Scarface is calling out the government and the media for its contradictions and finger pointing on this one: “They claim we threats to society, and now they calling on the government to try and make somebody quiet, for the bullshit they done to me, Gangsta Nip, Spice 1 or 2pac never gave a gun to me, so gangsta rap aint done shit for that, I’ve seen white folks from River Oaks go get the gat, So why you tryna kick some dust up? America’s been always known for blamin’ us niggas for they fuck ups”. Ice Cube also stops by and adds a solid third verse to match Scarface’s politically charge commentary. Add the catchy, clever and true hook by the uncredited Devin The Dude, along with the dope instrumental, and you got a classic record on your hand (no pun intended).

Mind Playin’ Tricks 94 – Scarface revisits the classic Geto Boys’ joint, using the same instrumental but adding three new verses to it. It’s not bad, but most classics are better left alone. Even if you were the creator of the original.

The Diary – Over a decent up-tempo southern-flavored instrumental, Brad reverts back to the violent rhetoric that dominated the first half of The Diary, as he goes back to blastin’ on anybody who gets in his path (which apparently is sparked by a dude telling Face he can “fade him on some rap shit” at beginning of the song). I don’t see the point of this one and its placement in the album’s sequencing is off. But its short, so whatever.

Outro – Bringing things full circle, The Diary ends with the same instrumental used on the “Intro” (with a slightly different beginning), punctuated by Scarface’s devious signature laugh.

After revisiting The Diary these past few weeks, it actually sounds better than I remembered it. Lyrically, Face sounds hungry, sharp and poised, and he and his production team lace together a pretty solid batch of instrumentals for our host to get busy on. On the flip side, Face’s content tends to get redundant, the recycling of some of The World Is Yours instrumentals (and concepts) is corny, and the second half of The Diary is not nearly as strong as the first half. All in all, The Diary is a decent album, but not nearly worthy of the critical acclaim its received. I wonder how much J. Prince paid The Source to get them to change the rating from 4 to 5 mics.

-Deedub

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Digable Planets – Blowout Comb (October 18, 1994)

1993 was an interesting year for our insect friends, Digable Planets. They were winning Grammy’s, receiving tons of critical acclaim and commercial success, but along with the wins came the criticism from the streets and their peers (*cough* KRS-One) that they were too soft. I personally loved Reachin’ back in ’93 and feel its aged well through the years (read my thoughts on the album here). Regardless, the trio of bugs would return in 1994 with their sophomore project, Blowout Comb.

Like Reachin’, Butterfly (and according to the album’s liner notes, the other two Planets as well) would be the backbone of the production scheme, but while their debut album was mostly sample based, Blowout Comb incorporates heavy dosages of live instrumentation by a host of musicians to go along with the samples and a few cameo verses and vocals from some special guests. The CD version of Blowout Comb would include an elaborate 13 page booklet, which along with the cover artwork and album liner notes, would include what reads like a Digable Planets community newsletter, with different stories and messages to uplift and empower the black community. The album didn’t sell that well, but it did receive respectable reception from critics and fans. Then, just like that, the group vanished into thin air, not to be heard from again for another ten years, and that was just a compilation of old songs and unreleased remixes.

I have fond memories of Blowout Comb, and it turns 25 in a week! Let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

The May 4th Movement Starring Doodlebug – The song title references May, 4 1919, which was the date some students in Beijing, seeking societal change, decided to start protesting the Chinese Government, thus sparking the movement dubbed “May 4th” and later called the “New Culture Movement”. If you want more info on the subject, simply Google “The May 4th Movement”. There’s a ton of in-depth info out there in cyberspace that I don’t have the time or space to elaborate on right now…so, back to my post: After a short triumphant trumpet solo (that is subtitled “Slowes’ Comb”), the DP’s drop a creamy smooth instrumental to match the “creamy bullets” Ladybug mentions in her opening verse (and I have to say, Ladybug Mecca may have the sexiest voice in hip-hop history). I’m not sure why the title says “Starring Doodlebug”, as all three parties spit verses on the song (and Doodlebug only gets one verse, while Ladybug and Butterfly get two each). Regardless, this is one of the greatest album opening songs in hip-hop history. Revolutionary music never sounded so heavenly.

Black Ego – The DP’s follow up the brilliantly creamy smooth instrumentation from the previous track with this moody melancholy music (tongue twist that!), as each of the trio spits one verse over it. Doodlebug steals the show, delivery a strong verse in his monotone vocal: “I got Harlem on my mind, devil on my back, Brooklyn in my blood and Butter’s on the track, I got insect thoughts, catch the cool waves, clouds of purple haze keep me in a daze, the jazz, the jive, the poetry, the style, the lingo, the bags of equality, many different things try to get to me, but in a land of hard rock I keep my humility”. After the verses end, Huey Cox (on guitar), Alan Goldsher (on bass) and Beth Russo (on cello) bless our souls with a live soothing jam session to close things out. This may be the greatest 7 minute hip-hop song ever created.

Dog It – This one opens with some wild sax chords, before the tough drums drop, accompanied by hard vibraphone notes and an undisguisable marching chant, as the album’s mood instantly goes from laidback jazzy grooves to aggressive militant music. Doodlebug sits this one out as Butterfly and Ladybug take turns spitting socially conscious rhymes, riddled references to the Nation of Gods and Earths and at one point Butterfly, uncharacteristically, threatens to bust shots at his oppressors (“before we fall victim, we lick ’em… I ain’t playin'”). Ladybug cleverly calls it all “groove food”. This one is nasty.

Jettin’ – Butterfly and crew change up the energy from the previous song as they build this breezy backdrop around a smooth Bob James loop. All three bugs are in good spirits, celebrating their blackness. This one feels just as good as it did 25 years ago.

Borough Check – The DP’s flip an ill Roy Ayers loop and invite Guru (rip) to join them as they rep for Brooklyn, and all four emcees turn in solid performances. My only issue with this song is the unwarranted extended intro and outro.

Highing Fly – This short interlude comes with a weird instrumental that has Butterfly rhyming awkward and off beat (which, based on the song title, I’m sure was his intention). I could do without this one, but at least it’s only a minute and a half.

Dial 7 – This is the first real mishap of the evening. The instrumentation is bland, Sara Webbs’ vocal spots in between the verses quickly becomes annoying, and the music doesn’t suit, and almost drowns out, the DP’s rhymes. Next…

The Art Of Easing – Our insect hosts quickly get things back on track as they build this smooth groove around a soothing Bobbi Humphrey’s loop and invite a few friends to add strings to it (Dave Darlington on guitar and Davey Chalice on bass), making the already pleasurable soundscape even more enjoyable. These are the kind of instrumentals that the Digable Planets sounds best rhyming over.

K.B.’s Alley – Over basically the same instrumental for the album’s lead single “9th Wonder” the DP’s invite David Lee Jones to blow his alto sax next to Tim “T-Bone” Williams on trombone. Just a short interlude that quickly goes into the next song…

Graffiti – The Gang Starr Foundation makes a second appearance on Blowout Comb, as Jeru Da Damaja swoops in to rep for Brooklyn next to the three BK transplants. Butter, Lady and Doodle sound decent on this one (although, Ladybug sounds better than decent when she rhymes that she has “the shotty right next to my body”…guns have never sounded so sexy!), but Jeru tip-toes through the smooth-high energy instrumentation (courtesy of Dave Darlington on bass and Shi Reltub on vibes), mixing street smart slang and his large vocabulary in his signature deadpan delivery, easily stealing the show.

Blowing Down – This is definitely one of my least favorite joints on Blowout Comb. It’s not that it’s terrible, it just doesn’t hit as hard as some of the album’s better tracks.

9th Wonder (Blackitolism) – This was the lead single from Blowout Comb. Butterfly and company lay down a funky mid-tempo groove as they boast about being slicker than they were during their Reachin’ days. This song definitely didn’t have the same impact as “Rebirth Of Slick” did, but it’s still a dope record.

For Corners – The title of this song is a clever little play on words. The DP’s invite the Bronx native, Sulaiman to join them on this one (four emcees…fo(u)r corners), as they each get multiple turns spewing thought provoking black conscious rhymes for the streets, or…for the corners. The instrumental has a cosmic jazzy vibe that just feels good and never grows old. This was a great way to wrap up Blowout Comb.

I guess we’ll never truly know if the criticism the DP’s received for being too soft on Reachin’ made them switch their content up for Breakin’ Combs. Regardless, I found the insect trio’s new edgier/militant approach enjoyable. I also found the layered production enjoyable, as the samples mixed with live instrumentation add depth to most of the grooves and shows Butterfly’s (and company) growth as a producer. There are a few skippable moments on Blowout Comb, but the good far out ways the bad, and your soul will be touched (and possibly transformed) by more than three-fourths of the “groove food” the threesome serve up. Blowout Comb may not be a classic, but it definitely deserves more respect than what history has given it through the years.

-Deedub

 

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Thug Life- Volume 1

Thug Life was the collective of 2pac, Syke (rip), Macadoshis, Mopreme (Pac’s step brother) and The Rated R.  In other words, Thug Life was Pac’s attempt of putting his crew on and lining their pockets with some money. The group would sign a deal with Jive Records and released their one and only project, Volume 1, at the tail end of 1994.

Most of the production work on Volume 1 would be handled by the group, with a few contributions from some close associates of Thug Life. I don’t remember hearing a ton of praise from the streets or critics when Volume 1 was released, but regardless, the album would go on to earn the group a gold plaque, which can directly be contributed to 2pac’s involvement.

Even though I was a Pac fan from the jump, I never checked for Thug Life or Volume 1 back in ’94. I found a used copy sometime in the mid 2000’s and figured I’d buy it to complete my Pac collection, and because I was a fan of at least one of the songs on the album.

So even if Volume 1 is trash, I’ll enjoy at least one song and thug my way through the rest of it.

Bury Me A G – The first song of the evening starts out pretty shaky, as the first thing you hear are some janky sounding drums. Then the always trustworthy Isley Brothers “In Between The Sheets” loop comes in, along with Pac’s signature baritone, and makes everything better. We also quickly learn that the rest of the crew aren’t as talent as their thugged out leader when it comes to rhyming.

Don’t Get It Twisted – Jay and Mopreme get the production credit for this dark banger that Mopreme, Macadoshis and Rated R use to thug out on. None of three spit anything worth quoting, but the instrumental is a monster.

Shit Don’t Stop – From the content to the music (to the subpar vocal performance from Y.N.V. on the hook), this was trash. Next…

Pour Out A Little Liquor – This was the lead single and the main reason I bought Volume 1 in the first place. Pac goes solo on this one, as he reminisces and pays respect to his fallen friends: “Drinkin’ on gin, smokin’ on blunts and it’s on, reminisce about my niggas that’s dead and gone, and now their buried, sometimes my eyes still get blurry, cause I’m losin’ all my homies and I worry”. Johnny J build the melodic/melancholy backdrop around a soothing O’Jays’ loop that suits Pac’s rhymes, perfectly.

Stay True – Pac and Stretch (rip) get credit for this smooth back drop, built around an ill guitar loop and bass line. Stretch and Mopreme join Pac on the mic as they take turns pledging to stay true to the thug lifestyle. This would have been better as just a Pac and Stretch combo (who would have thought that two years later they’d both be gone), but not even Mopreme’s lackluster performance can keep this from being a dope record.

How Long Will They Mourn Me? – Warren G and Nate Dogg construct this mid-tempo backdrop, complete with mournful organ chords. Pac, Syke, Macadoshis and The Rated R use it to reminisce, pay respect and dedicate this song to their deceased partner, Kato. Nate Dogg not only gets a co-production credit, but also sings the head scratching hook, (Is he wishing death on somebody else? Man, that’s cold). This isn’t a terrible record, but it didn’t move me.

Under Pressure – Stretch returns and tag teams the mic with 2pac, as the two buddies thug their way all over this hard Thug Life produced track. 2pac gets the better of his guest, but together they both shine.

Street Fame – Stretch hooks up a monster of an instrumental for Mopreme, Syke and Rated R to spit on. Even though the trio are average emcees at best, they sound solid over Stetch’s hard backdrop.

Cradle To The Grave – Apparently this was the second single from Volume 1. Syke and Jay concoct a traditional West Coast instrumental with a touch of r&b flavor, and even invite vocalists Albert Washington and Rochell to sing the hook. For only the second time on Volume 1, all five members rhyme on the same track, as they each discuss their upbringing and share their personal plights. I can see why they chose this as a single. The production is easily digestible by the masses, but the fellas still stay true to their thug themed rhymes.

Str8 Ballin’ – Our hosts definitely saved the best for last. Easy Mo Bee lays down an infectious smooth groove, as Pac creeps solo, spilling vintage thug rhetoric, and he sounds great in the process: “I smoke blunts on a regular, fuck when it counts, I’m tryna make a million dollars out a quarter ounce, and gettin’ ghost on 5-0, fuck them hoes, gotta 45 screaming out survival…don’t wanna go to the pen I’m hittin’ fences, marks on a nigga back missing me by inches, and they say how you survive, weighin’ 165, in the city where the skinny niggas die? Tell mama don’t cry, even when they kill me, they could never take the game from a young g…I’m straight ballin!” I’ve never heard this song before this post, but now I’d put it in my top 15 Pac songs of all time.

Despite Thug Life’s overall lack of rhyming ability and lyrical talent, Volume 1 still ends up being an entertaining listen. Most of the entertainment value can be credited to 2pac on the mic and Thug Life and associates’ solid batch of instrumentals, which includes a few unheralded bangers as well. You’re not going to get much substance or a wide variety of content on Volume 1, but who listens to Thug Life for that?

Martin Luther King Jr. once said there is power in unity and power in numbers. On Volume 1, Thug Life proves that the sum is sometimes greater than its parts. And I never thought I’d be quoting MLK to wrap up a Thug Life album…does that count as blasphemy?

-Deedub

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Simple E – Colouz Uv Sound (October 11, 1994)

Since its inception into the music industry, hip-hop has seen many emcees, rappers and acts come and go, or as Nas once so elegantly put it “pop for a minute, spit a sentence then the game will get rid of ya’ll”. 1994 saw a lot of new artist fall under this category, including the subject of today’s post, Simple E.

Erica “Simple E” Williams came on the scene reppin’ New Jersey under the tutelage of the Oakland based musician D’wayne Wiggins (whose name you may recognize as one of the three T’s from Tony! Toni! Tone!). Simple E got her first National exposure in 1993 for the song “Play My Funk” from the Sugar Hill Soundtrack, which D’wayne Wiggins would also produce. The single made some noise and soon after Simple E would release her debut album Colouz Uv Sound on Fox Records in the fall of 1994 (I had no idea Fox even had a music division before this post). D’Wayne Wiggins and Terry T would produce the bulk of Colouz, which didn’t receive a lot of attention from the streets or the critics upon its release.

I came across a used copy of Colouz several moons ago and figured I’d get to it one day. And that someday is now.

Kum Follow Me – Simple E kicks off Colouz with a laid back cool groove (produced by Terry T) that she tip toes on, methodically weaving through the track like Double Dutch ropes as she abstractly talks her shit. Her rhyming style sounds like a mix of the Da Brat and Bahamadia, and that’s not an insult. This was a dope way to start the evening.

Day Ain’t Reade – D’wayne Wiggins gets his first production credit of the evening, as he lays down a dope mid-tempo jazzy groove that our host devours like a bear does its prey. Well done, D&E.

De Abyss – Over a melancholy instrumental, Simple E shares a dream (or a nightmare?) she had which includes a bunch of rappers: “I had a dream, one drug, one fiend, just two left on the hip-hop scene, Treach was my slave in my deep dark cave, Lyte went blind just a sign of her grave…Lord Jamar turned bald, and called pale man true God” (Jamar hasn’t called the white man god yet (the fact that he won’t even give Eminem his props as a superior emcee, I’m pretty sure that will never happen), but I’m pretty sure his heads balding under all those baseball caps he rocks). She goes on to mention Kane, Busta Rhymes, Onyx, Boss, Rage, Snoop, Wu-Tang, BDP, Ice Cube and Too-Short,  just to name a few. I don’t think this was meant to dis any of the parties named, but it did leave me questioning the song’s purpose and Simple E’s intentions with it. I did dig Terry-T’s moody production work, though.

East Coast/West Coast – Now, here’s a unique collab. The East Bay gangsta, Spice 1 joins Simple E as he reps for the West and she the East on this playful coastal battle. This may be the least violent song I’ve ever heard Spice 1 rap on (he literally doesn’t catch one body!). Regardless, both parties give lackluster efforts, and D Wig’s faux West Coast backdrop is too cheesy for my taste buds.

Rant & Rave – Mister Lawnge (one half of Black Sheep) drops in with his only production credit of the evening, and he makes the most of it. He laces Simple E with a stuttering jazzy joint built around an ill piano loop and a whirly horn sample, as our hostess swags her way through it. This was dope.

Soul Searchin’ – Tya Washington greets us at the midway point of Colouz and shares this short spoken word poem. It didn’t move me, but it works well as a quick intermission.

Kinke Reggae – Decent jazz-flavored filler material.

Neck Work – Simple E continues to spew impressive abstract rhymes as she boasts of her greatness and lyrical prowess. Ali Shaheed Muhammad (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) provides the melodic, yet hard instrumental that is guaranteed to get your head bobbin’…or your neck workin’. The only thing missing from this song are cameo verses from Tip and Phife. How ill would that have been?

Paradigmz – The first few times I listened to this one I thought E was calling out cornball suitors, but after several more listens it sounds like she’s calling out anybody who wants to try her on the microphone. D Wigs hooks up a smooth mid-tempo groove for Simple E,  who stays in the pocket and rocks it to perfection, and even displays her solid singing voice at certain points.

Blue Jeans – Apparently this was released as a single from Colouz, as I found a video for it while digging up info on Simple E. Run DMC loved their Adidas, Tim Dog loved his Timbs, and Simple E loves her blue jeans. And as the hook says she “wears them in the night time”, because “anytime is the right time”. To dedicate a whole song to your blue jeans is a unique idea, but the song’s kind of corny and the D Wig/Terry-T concocted instrumental doesn’t make matters any better.

An Innocent Rage – Simple E does a solid job of keeping up with Terry-T’s dope up-tempo backdrop on this one. That’s all I got.

Realite – Over laid back acoustic laden instrumentation, courtesy of D Wig (which kind of reminds me of the opening chords on Tony! Toni! Tone’ s “Whatever You Want”), Simple E shares the trials and tribulations of several different people over the course of two verses. I’m not a fan of rappers fading out before they end their verses (like Simple E does on the song’s final verse), but this was pretty solid.

Play My Funk – The final song of the evening is the song I mentioned in the intro and the only song I was familiar with going into listening to Colouz. D Wig builds the beautiful backdrop around an ill Herbie Hancock loop, and Simple E dances all over it with her melodic tone and nimble tongue. This is an underrated (or possibly forgotten) classic nineties hip-hop record, and it still sounds amazing today.

On Colouz Uv Sound, Simple E proves that she’s capable of holding the listener’s attention. Her vocal tone and delivery may be more intriguing than her actual content, but regardless, she entertains. D’Wayne Wiggins and company provide a solid collection of jazz infused instrumentals that serve as suitable sounds for our hostess to color on with her verbal crayons. A few of the songs miss and sometimes Simple E’s abstract rhymes can be a bit too abstract, but overall Colouz is a diamond in the rough from an artist that I would have loved to hear more from.

-Deedub

 

 

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Artifacts – Between A Rock And A Hard Place (October 11, 1994)

The Artifacts are the Newark, New Jersey born and bred duo of Tame One and El Da Sensei. Like a lot of kids on the East Coast, Tame and El would first fall in love with hip-hop through graffiti, as they were both known for their tags. Eventually, the two would not only tag walls and trains but also begin to tag team the microphone. They became a group and would soon land a deal with Big Beat Records, where they would release their debut album Between A Rock And A Hard Place.

For some reason I always thought that Tame and El produced their own tracks, so I was a bit surprised when I read the liner notes and discovered that Buckwild, T-Ray and Redman produced the entire album. Between A Rock would produce a couple of underground hits, and even though it didn’t sell a ton of units it was well received by the streets and the critics (The Source even gave it a solid 4 mic rating). The Artifacts would release one more album in 1997 before breaking up and going their separate ways. Tame and El would go on to release a ton of solo albums and collab efforts on independent labels, and both continue to record and release music today.

I was very familiar with their first two singles back in the day, but for some reason I never copped the album. I probably just overlooked it due to the abundance of dope shit that seemed to be coming out on a weekly basis back then. I came across a used copy of Between A Rock And A Hard Place a few years back and this is my first time listening to it until now.

Don’t judge me.

Drama – (Mortal Kombat Fatality) – The Artifacts let a dope instrumental rock (courtesy of a dude who simply goes by Drew) that is equally beautiful and hard, and lives up to the song’s title.

C Mon Wit Da Git Down – Buckwild serves El and Tame One a groove filled with soulful heat that they use to make a decent first impression, even though this was the second single released from the album. This one sounds way better today than I remember it back in ’94.

Wrong Side Of Da Tracks – This was the lead single from Between A Rock that finds El and Tame paying homage to the art of graffiti and taggin’. T-Ray slides the duo an understated mellow backdrop complete with a soothing horn loop on the hook. This is an underrated gem from the nineties.

Heavy Ammunition – The Artifacts take turns comparing their rhymes to guns over a bassy T-Ray produced track. This was the first ho-hum moment of the evening for me.

Attack Of New Jeruzalum – Tame and El invite their buddy Jay Burns Jaya to join them on the mic as they each spit a verse over Buckwild’s instrumental. All three parties spit decent verses (shout out to Jay Burns for the Goya Adobo reference in his verse. My lady put me on to that a few years ago. Lawry’s aint got shit on that stuff when it comes to seasoning) but I was very unimpressed by Buckwild’s mediocre production work on this one.

Notty Headed Nigguhz – This shit was boring as hell.

Whayback – The Artifacts get things back on track (no pun intended) with this one. El and Tame reminisce about their introduction to hip-hop and the early days of them trying to get on while paying their dues. I absolutely love T-Ray’s smooth instrumental, and the horn loop intertwined throughout is a thing of beauty.

Flexi With Da Tech(nique) – Here’s yet another ho-hum joint. Wait…did I really just here Tame One say “Every female Huxtable was fuckable”? Rudy was thirteen years old when the Cosby Show ended. I see you R. Kelly.

Cummin’ Thru Ya Fuckin’ Block – Redman swoops through and provides a high energy hook along with the bangin’ bass heavy backdrop for his Jersey bredrin to rhyme on. I was super disappointed that Reggie didn’t spit a verse on this one, which might have benefited the Artifacts. Because we all know Red would have murdered them on their own shit.

Lower Da Boom – The Artifacts dedicate this ode to marijuana, as Tame and El take turns (similar to a joint) rhyming about all of its herbal goodness. Tame begins his second verse with “Ooh, I hope to live to see the day they make it legal, so all the people can see what I’m smokin’ aint evil”. Well, the way things are going, he may get his wish.

What Goes On? – Tame One and El use this one to explain why they call certain ladies bitches. Their reasoning is pretty juvenile, but Buckwild serves up arguably the best instrumental on Between A Rock.

Dynamite Soul – Solid filler material

Whassup Now Muthafucka? – T-Ray lays down a stripped-down backdrop (with an ill vocal sample on the hook) for Tame One and El to each spit a verse on and close out the album. The fellas don’t sound terrible on this one, but stronger emcees would have made T-Ray’s instrumental stand out more.

I’m sure my opinion will be the minority here, but I wasn’t super impressed by Between A Rock And A Hard Place. Tame One and El Da Sensei are average emcees at best, whose vocal tones and flows tend to run together, and while they never embarrass themselves on the album they don’t produce any outstanding lyrical output, either. Speaking of producing, Buckwild and T-Ray (and I can’t forget Redman) serve up some heat for the duo to spit on, but for every fire track they create there’s a mediocre one to match it. In my opinion, Between A Rock And A Hard Place falls somewhere in between mediocre and an average place.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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College Boyz – Nuttin’ Less, Nuttin’ Mo’ (October 4, 1994)

 

The last time we heard from the College Boyz was back in 1992 with the release of their debut album Radio Fusion Radio. The album produced three singles, all which had modest success on the charts, but the album itself had little commercial success and even less critical acclaim. The College Boyz would return two years later with their sophomore effort (no pun intended), Nuttin’ Less, Nuttin Mo’.

The once four man crew is down to three, as B. Selector decided to drop out of college before NLNM was recorded (I’m not sure what he contributed the first go round, so I highly doubt his presence will be missed). NLNM would produce three singles that failed to chart and the album came and went with very little fanfare. Shortly after, The CB’s would call it quits as a group and go their separate ways. I’m not sure what happened with Que and Squeaky G (which is a horrible alias by the way), but the lead emcee Rom (better known as Romany Malco) would go on to have a pretty successful career as an actor.

I’ve never listened to NLNM before today, but since I own their first album, Radio Fusion Radio, the completest in me had to buy it…plus it was only a dollar.

Live On Wzack – The CB’s kick the album off with a faux female radio jockey at the faux radio station Wzack, who has made an exception of letting the College Boyz perform live on her show, even though the station has a strict restriction on rap music. Rom takes the opportunity to spew militant and politically charged raps over a funky backdrop built around a few loops from Parliament’s “Dr. Funkenstein”, making you forget that these boys is from Texas and not Cali. This one sounds better the more you listen to it.

Moment Of Truth (The Southern Version) – Over a cool laid back smooth groove (courtesy of DJ Ronski and Humphrey Riley), Rom celebrates his true friends on the hook, while calling out the fakes ones on his verses (“friends aint shit but potential foes, and potential foes aint shit but pretentious hoes”). You may find this blasphemous, but the instrumental and Rom’s rhymes remind me of Pac on Me Against The World‘s “Outlaw”. I like this one.

Rollin’ – This must have been one of the singles from NLNM, as I came across a video for it when doing a little research for this post. The CB’s hook up another super West Coast sounding instrumental and Rom spits more conscious raps mixed with street rhymes, Que rhymes for a few bars and Squeaky G sprinkles a little of his underwhelming vocals on the track. The fellas were clearly attempting to make a commercial but still street credible banger with this one. It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t call it a banger.

On Da Stroll – They were “Rollin” and now the CB’s are “On Da Stroll”. Rom spits a pretty clever line:”The sorrow that God inflicts whether poor or rich, cause every dog has a day and every day is a bitch”. Other than that, the rest of this song is pretty forgettable.

Easy – The CB’s hook up a breezy feel good backdrop that Rom uses to show gratitude and humility on. I love the bass guitar chords on this one.

Dying Out Here – The Ice Men and Dez & Adonis get credit for the funky instrumental that Rom uses to address the high number of black men dying by the hand of each other and the police (sadly, somethings haven’t changed since the nineties). Female vocalist Sweet Pea (which is a dope alias) adds a heartfelt hook and adlib, that when combined with the organ give you a soulful church feel.

If I Wuz A Bird – Rom uses this one to call out the injustices and hypocrisy the black man faces in North America and pin points that it all trickles down from our government (“it’s all a game of pimpin’, Regan, Bush and Clinton, I showed you who the gangsters be now watch who come up missin’). Rom’s conscious rhymes are pretty solid on this one, but they quickly get overshadowed by the dry Ice Men/Dez & Adonis produced instrumental and the corny hook.

No Sets, No Drama, No Stress – This makes for decent filler material.

15 Emotions – Romany goes into his acting bag on this one, as he comes from the perspective of a gang bangin’ killer who’s starting to feel guilty for all his evil deeds, but even as he fights to get out the game, his past (and his homies) keep pulling him deeper in to it. The smooth instrumental suits Rom’s poetically introspective rhymes, beautifully. This is easily the best song on NLNM.

Conscious Weep – The CB’s continue with their “tales from the hood”. This time Rom digs into the life and family of a girl named Carmanique, who is being molested by her father. Rom shares the disgusting details and the unfortunate decisions it leads Carmanique to make due to her pain and suffering. Technically, both the instrumental and Rom’s rhymes are sound, but for some reason neither the production or the rhymes feel heartfelt.

Texas Do – The College Boyz dedicate this one to the ladies. Over a laid back instrumental, Rom brags about his sexual prowess and what he and his TX crew wanna do with/to their prey (“we wants to get drunk and have sex with you”). Hey, conscious niggas like booty too, but this song is trash.

Nuttin’ Less, Nuttin’ Mo’ – The title track finds Rom doing some introspection, as he questions and ponders his canine sensibilities and his appetite for feline (“I’ve been tryin’ to come to grips, with the shit that I kick, another nigga run by his brain, but his brain is in his dick…why am I so ungrateful, why am I unfaithful, knowing woman is the origin of my navel”). The CB’s, with a co-production credit going to The Icemen, get credit for the slick low key instrumental that works well with Rom’s content.

Run Dance Hall – I’m not a huge fan of reggae music. So, you can probably guess how I feel when a Texas dude tries to chant like a Jamaican over a knock-off reggae instrumental.

Dedication – After a horribly written and horrendous vocal opening minute and half from Squeaky G, the somber Ice Men produced instrumental drops and Rom proceeds to spit his last two verses of the evening, dedicating them to his deceased friends. Remove Squeaky G’s parts from the song and this is a solid ending to NLNM.

On Nuttin’ Less, Nuttin’ Mo‘s final track “Dedication”, Rom boasts that the College Boyz aint no “fly by night crew with a one hit”, which is true. They actually don’t have any hits. But even without a hit record on NLNM, the CB’s craft a cohesive batch of songs that don’t all work, but they hit more often than they miss. The album title is a bit misleading, as the title song sums up the black man as just a sexually charged being who only thinks with his dick, meanwhile, the CB’s spend the majority of the album focused on social issues and the black man’s plight in North America. NLNM is far from a great album, but it’s definitely an improvement from their first go round. I’m curious what they may have been able to do with a third shot.

-Deedub

 

 

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Common – Resurrection (October 4, 1994)

How is that for timing? Today’s post is on Common’s sophomore effort, Resurrection, and his 12th studio album, Let Love comes out this Friday! Read this post and then go check out his new album this weekend. 

 

Shortly after getting The Source‘s Unsigned Hype column feature, the Chicago born emcee Common would get a deal with Relativity Records and released his debut album Can I Borrow A Dollar? (read my thought on that album here) in 1992. The album didn’t move a ton of units, but a few of the album’s singles made a little noise, which was enough noise for Relativity to give him a follow up. Common would return at the end of 1994 with his second album, Resurrection.

On CIBAD the production duties were pretty much split between Twilite Tone and No ID (who went by the alias of Immenslope at the time), and collectively them dudes put their foot in it. For Resurrection, gone is Twilite Tone (which I’m still curious as to why), which left No ID at the helm to sculpt Resurrection, sonically (Common’s buddy Ynot gets a few production credits as well). Resurrection would go on to receive favorable reviews (largely due to the first single) from critics and fans alike, and in 1998 The Source would include it on their list of 100 Best Rap Album, even though they only gave it 3.5 mics upon its release. I can’t knock them for that. Sometimes we have to give music a little time to marinate before we can really appreciate it.

Because…time is illmatic.

Resurrection – Common kicks off the album with the title track which was also the album’s second single. No ID builds the instrumental around a jazzy piano loop, as Common displays his potent flow and wordplay that had clearly improved since CIBAD. Our host mixes clever punchlines (“I’m Nestle when it’s crunch-time, for your mind like one time, if poetry was pussy I’d be Sunshine, cause I deliver like the Sun-Times”) with insightful rhymes showing depth and maturity (“Proceed to read and not believin’ everything I’m readin’, but my brain was bleedin’, needin’ feedin'”), and he also gives a shout out to one of the finest BET personalities of all-time, Video LP’s Madelyne Woods (whom Phife first immortalized on a ATCQ’s classic, “Electric Relaxation” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), and even today, well in to her fifties, she still looks amazing). Extra P did a remix for this song (which along with the single mix had slightly different verses) which was also pretty dope. This is an underrated classic and arguably one of the greatest opening songs on a hip-hop album.

I Used To Love H.E.R. – No ID chops up an ill George Benson loop and Common brilliantly uses hip-hop as a metaphor for a woman he once loved, and with great detail he illustrates the path she took over the years to end up where she’s at now. I recently heard Common say in an interview that he wasn’t really dissin’ any artist on this song, but it definitely sounds like he was taking subtle shots at West Coast rappers and some of the East Coast groups he thought were gimmicks (“I see niggas slammin’ her and takin’ her to the sewer…i.e. Onyx and Das EFX). Regardless, this song did start the beef between Ice Cube and Common, which would inspire Common to write one of the most underrated dis records in the history of hip-hop (“The Bitch In Yoo”), bodying the once seemingly bullet proof, Ice Cube. Ironically, the two would patch things up and 20 plus years later Common would star alongside Cube in the Cube Vision produced movie Barbershop: The Next Cut (time is truly illmatic). This song is flawless from top to bottom (I absolutely love The Five Heartbeats snippet at the end of the song) and easily one of the top ten greatest hip-hop songs off all time (yeah, I said it!).

Watermelon – Our host sounds more like the CIBAD Common on this one, as he hits the listener with witty punchline after punchline. No ID lays down a bare back drum break and lays a deep bass line underneath it, as Common annihilates the damn thing with ease.

Book Of Like – A young Common’s pondering life and questioning his purpose on this one. No ID’s slightly somber backdrop serves as the perfect canvas for our host’s introspection.

In My Own World (Check The Method) – No ID not only produces this song but also shares the microphone with Common. Part of the hook and song title come from a portion of Extra P’s verse on ATCQ’s “Keep It Rollin” from the Midnight Marauders album (there’s a double dosage of Tribe Degrees of Separation for dat ass!). This is one of the few songs I skip on the album.

Another Wasted Nite With… – Common uses this hi-larious voicemail from one of his homies (or “cat daddy” uncles) to set up the next song…

Nuthin’ To Do – The final song on the “East Side of Stony” finds Common bored and idle, as he reminisces about his reckless days as a youth in the streets of Chicago. I love No ID’s jazzy instrumental and the clever ODB vocal sample.

Communism – Our host taps back into his creative juices and comes up with a clever song title and concept, as he strings together a verse full of words that begin with a “com” prefix (“Now Com could get the penny, but I want my own company, and Com is on a mission not to work for commission…it’s a common market and it’s so much competition, but to me, competition is none”). No ID’s warm backdrop suits Common’s communist verse, perfectly. My only issue with this one is its too short.

WMOE – Short interlude that sets up the next song.

Thisisme – Common uses this one to celebrate just being himself. No gangster, no criminal, just plain old Common. He also saves room to talk a little shit as well (“rappers are like jobs to me, because they get done”).  No ID provides the feel good breezy backdrop for our host to freely and confidently walk in his own shoes and create a dope song.

Orange Pineapple Juice – More quality rhymes and dope production work, suitable for midnight marauding.

Chapter 13 (Rich Man Vs. Poor Man) – This is the first song of the evening that No ID didn’t produce, and the second song of the evening that I deem skippable. Ynot joins Common on the mic as they take turns spitting underwhelming freestyle rhymes over a boring Ynot produced instrumental. Next…

Maintaining – No ID quickly gets thing swinging back in the right direction with this dope instrumental that Common completely obliterates (“I’m as dope as PCP, MC’s see me, and they start having flashbacks, I don’t flash scratch, I gotta watch my back, nowadays blacks don’t know how to act, besides Larry Fishburne, Charles Dutton, and Wesley Snipes, marks wanna test me because I test mics, but I check ’em sound, and like Goose I’m down, plus I done got better since “Soul By The Pound””). This shit is dope.

Sum Shit I Wrote – This is one of my favorite songs on Resurrection. Ynot quickly redeems himself from the mediocrity that was “Chapter 13”, and lays down this bumpin’ mid-tempo groove. Common’s in a zone and raps his ass off on this one: “I don’t see nothin’ wrong with a little bump and grind, but there comes a time when you gotta come off that booty, the facts of life I didn’t learn from watchin’ Tootie, but livin’ in the big city, but I still like Tootie cause she got big titties…my style is steep, I rip rhymes on the incline, splat guts, bust fat nuts and lay up like a crip line…I’m slammin’ jammin’ on the one…I’m a bad man…you’re just a good son”. Brilliant.

Pop’s Rap – Common brings back the “Thisisme” instrumental for his Pop Dukes to get on the mic and get some shit off his chest. Poppa Common offering a few words of wisdom would become the traditional way for Common to end his next several albums. Sadly, his pop’s passed away a few years ago. He dedicated the song “Little Chicago Boy” (which Pops also appears on) from the Black America Again album to him.

Hip-hop has seen many artist go from wet behind the ears to fully grown adult, but rarely does a rapper’s catalog show their progression with each of their works. Common is one of the exceptions. Throughout his catalog his music has documented his maturity and growth as an emcee, and more importantly, as a man. The animated immature kid from Can I Borrow A Dollar? still appears from time to time throughout Resurrection, but you also see that same kid blossoming into a man with maturity and depth. But don’t get it twisted, he can still bust your shit on the mic. No ID provides a nearly flawless soundscape (props to Ynot for “Sum Shit I Wrote”) for Common’s brilliant metaphors, witty punchlines and potent battle raps, and despite a few hiccups, the duo collectively birth a great album. No sophomore slump for Common, cause as he so confidently states on “Maintaining”: I done got better since “Soul By The Pound”.

-Deedub

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