Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (March 28, 1995)

By 1995, the Wu-Tang Clan was on top of the hip-hop world. After releasing their classic debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993, the crew members begin signing solo deals and releasing solo projects. First up would be Rza with the Gravediggaz debut project, 6 Feet Deep, followed by Method Man’s Tical, both released in ’94. Next up to bat would be the crew jester, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who would sign with Elektra and release his debut album Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. 

ODB would keep Rza at the helm to produce most of Return, with a few assists from some Wu-Affiliates. The album would become a commercial success (even though it took almost 25 years for it to be certified platinum) and received mostly positive reviews from the critics. The Source would include it on their 1998 list of 100 Best Rap Albums and it would also receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album in 1996. The artwork of ODB’s food stamp ID card is probably the funniest and most unique album cover in hip-hop history.

On November 13 2004, just two days before his 36th birthday, ODB collapsed at Rza’s recording studio in New York and was later pronounced dead. The official cause of death was an accidental drug overdose caused by a mixture of cocaine and prescription drugs.

This is the third rapper in my last 4 posts that died before the age of 40. Just a reminder how short life is, and that time is truly, illmatic.

IntroODB Mr. Russell Jones kicks off Return by introducing himself ODB to the show, the album and the listener. He also gives us a taste of his drunken singing and other antics.

Shimmy Shimmy Ya – This was the second single from Return. Rza lays down a simple piano loop and a loopy bass line that ODB uses to spit the same loony verse, twice. Not one of my favorite songs on the album, but it’s still decent.

Baby C’mon – Here’s another one I’ve never been crazy about, but it sounds better today than it did 25 years ago. Rza’s bangin’ bass line goes hard.

Brooklyn Zoo – This was the lead single from Return. ODB and True Master hook up a stuttering triumphant piano loop and turn it into a certified banger that our host uses to spew, arguably, his strongest bars on the album. This classic record will always be my favorite Ol’ Dirty Bastard song.

Hippa To Da Hoppa – See comments from “Baby C’mon”, minus the bangin’ bass line.

Raw Hide – ODB mixes a little bit of coo-coo with bat shit crazy on this one: “I wanna see blood, whether it’s period blood or bustin’ your fuckin’ face, some blood…Imagine gettin’ shot up with Ol’ Dirty insulin, you bound to catch AIDS or something…not sayin’ I got it, but if I got it, then you got it…what?!!!”. Our host also invites two of his Wu-Tang bredrin, Raekwon and Method Man, to join him, as they rock lovely over Rza’s ruggedly dark backdrop. Meth steals the show and shuts shit down with a slick closing verse delivered in his signature mesmerizing flow. This is an underrated Wu banger.

Damage – The Genius shows a more playful side, joining ODB on this duet, as the two pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato over one long verse. Rza and The 4th Disciple are credited for the light-hearted instrumental that works well behind the ODB and Gza’s antics. 

Don’t U Know – The song starts with a skit that has two females discussing ODB’s appearance. One of the ladies is repulsed by the “dirty muthafucka”, while the other one is obsessed by his “disposition” (The whole exchange cracks me up every time I listen to it). After that, Ol’ Dirty and Killah Priest get nasty, as they holla at the objects of their erections in search of some snatch over Rza’s grimy canvas. ODB caps off the horny festivities with a hi-larious spoken word piece about getting a blow job from his teacher. This one is wildly entertaining.

The Stomp – With an assist from Rza, ODB hooks up a bangin’ instrumental and wiles out all over it: “Brothers always playin’ with the microphone, when it blows up in your face *BOOM* you leave it alone, You couldn’t touch it, this style is too much, it’s the rhymer, I don’t give a crippled crab clutch, about any nigga or niggarette, get burnt to the brimecell like a cigarette”. Not a great song, but it’s a solid album cut.

Goin’ Down – The intro is pretty hi-larious, but everything else about this song is mediocre.

Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) – Ethan Ryman and ODB concoct a smooth r&b groove that our host uses to give us a taste of his singing chops and pays homage to some of the soul legends that came before him. This is dope in its own zany way.

Snakes – Killah Priest, Rza, Masta Killa (I always confuse Killah Priest and Masta Killa with each other) and Buddah Monk join ODB as they each spit verses about shady dudes who sliver like snakes in these streets. ODB starts his verse on topic, but gets side-tracked midway through his verse, and I have no idea what the hell Buddah Monk is talking about on the song’s final verse. But the true star of this one is Rza’s gritty soulful production, punctuated by a pulsating bass line.

Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane) – ODB recycles the verse he and Gza shared on “Damage” but spits it by himself this time. Ghostface Killah drops by and tacks on a decent second verse, followed by a quick medley of snippets from about half the songs on Return up to this point. Then Rza brings back the dull instrumental for our host to ramble over for a few more minutes. The song is followed by an interlude that catches an extremely intoxicated OBD at a live show comparing hip-hop to a “bitch” who gets caught cheating.

Proteck Ya Neck II The Zoo – Rza lays down a dark unsettling frantic-paced backdrop for our host, who invites Brooklyn Zu (Buddha Monk, Zu Keeper, Murdoc, 12′ O’Clock, Shorty Shitstain) and Sunz Of Man (Prodigal Sunn, Killah Priest, 60 Second Assassin) to join him on this high energy cipher joint. This record doesn’t come close to touching the dopeness of the classic part one, but its dope in its own right.

Cuttin’ Headz – Rza and ODB dust off an old demo they made when Wu-Tang was shopping for a group deal, which uses the same drunken Thelonious Monk piano loop that Rza would later use on Enter The Wu-Tang’s “Clan In Da Front”. Rza doesn’t sound as aggressive as he would later become and ODB sounds way more tamed then he was on Enter The Wu-Tang and the rest of this album, but they still display an undeniable chemistry and sound dope bouncing rhymes off of each other. The poor sound quality of this record actually gives it a dope grimy feel, which is what made Rza’s production so appealing in the nineties. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Return.

The cd version of Return To The 36 Chambers features the following two bonus tracks:

Dirty Dancin’ – Rza hooks up a dark banger for ODB to clown and spaz out on, while Method Man returns to lace the track with “Teflon lyrics that you can’t get through”. If you’re going to add bonus songs to your album, make sure they’re this entertaining, please.

Harlem World – Somebody going by the alias of Big Dore, hooks us a dope mid-tempo groove with an ill bass line for Return’s finale. ODB is not a great lyricist, but the dude finds his pocket and wrecks the shit out of this banger with his drunken-style: “Is it the pork on your fork, or the swine on our mind, make you rap against a brother with a weak ass rhyme? Swine on your mind, pork on your fork, make you imitate a brother in the state of New York, chain on your BRAIN, that drove you InSANE, when you tried to CLAIM, for the talent and the FAME, nothin’ to GAIN, yet and still you CAME, suffer the PAIN, as I demolish your NAME, not like Betty Crocker bakin’ cake in the ov, sayin’ this is dedicated to the one I love”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Return and a great way to end the album.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but an album’s cover can sometimes give you a good indication on what to expect from that album. Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version does just that, as ODB takes the listener on a bizarre ride through his twisted, tormented and heavily intoxicated mind, with Rza and friends batch of boom-bap beats serving as the rollercoaster. Every song on Return doesn’t work, but most of the production bangs and ODB’s outrageously animated “half-rapped, half-sung” style will keep you entertained.

-Deedub

 

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Big L – Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (March 28, 1995)

The first time I heard Big L spit was on Showbiz & A.G.’s D.I.T.C. cipher joint “Represent” from their debut album, Runaway Slave. Big L led the song off and held his own amongst his more seasoned crew members (i.e. Lord Finesse and A.G.), fitting right in with his clever metaphors and humorous punchlines. The East Harlem emcee, known for his polished freestyle ability, would become an official emcee of D.I.T.C. and soon earned himself a solo deal with Columbia, where he would release his debut album, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous.

Big L would call on some of his D.I.T.C. bredrin (Showbiz, Lord Finesse and Buckwild) to produce the majority of LODP&D. The album was a commercial failure, but received critical acclaim and some even consider it to be a classic. Sadly, it would be the only album Big L lived to see released, as he was gunned down in Harlem on February 15, 1999 (rip).

LODP&D is another album that I bought when it came out and haven’t listened to it in over twenty years. Let’s rejog my memory and revisit LODP&D together.

Put It On – The first song on LODP&D was also Big L’s first single. Buckwild provides a solid mid-tempo instrumental (which includes a cool xylophone loop) for Big L to showcase his wittiness and clever wordplay over, while Kid Capri drops in to add an energetic hook. It doesn’t sound as dope as it did back in ’95, but it’s still a decent record.

MVP – This was the second single released from LODP&D. A few months before the Trackmasters looped up Debarge’s “Stay With Me” for Biggie’s “One More Chance” remix, Lord Finesse would sample it for this song. Big L uses the mellow musical vibes to boast of his lyrical prowess and turns a dope Big Daddy Kane line into a clever hook.

No Endz, No Skinz – Well, the title pretty much sums up Big L’s message in a nutshell. Showbiz gets his first production credit of the evening as he slides our host a funky bass guitar loop to spit on and brings in a mellow jazzy break in between L’s verses. The hook is kind of corny, but the jazzy break is delectable enough to forgive that mishap.

8 Iz Enuff – Big L invites seven of his closes friends to join him on this cipher joint: Terra, Herb McGruff, Buddah Bless, Big Twan, Killa Kam (aka Cam’Ron from Dipset), Trooper J and Mike Boogie all spit verses alongside our gracious host. Buckwild’s dark unsettling instrumental suits the casts’ thug rhetoric, nicely. I wouldn’t call it a classic posse record, but it’s decent.

All Black – Finesse’s instrumental sounds like one of Showbiz’ “drab drums-boring bass line stock” beats he tends to hand out from time to time. Big L uses the ball of boredom to kill men, rape women, slay his mama and great granny, and occasional boast about his lyrical greatness. A few of L’s outlandish lines make me chuckle, but this song is barely decent.

Danger Zone – Wait. Did Buckwild jack Finesse’s instrumental from the previous song, add a little something here, take out something there and call it his own? Regardless, it’s just as boring as the former. Big L continues to spew violent threats and gets on some satanic shit as he denounces God, calls himself the devil’s son, kills nuns on Sundays and threatens to rape Christ? Wtf? I know it’s all said in jest and for shock value, but that shit aint nothing to play with.

Street Struck – Finesse redeems himself from the underwhelming “All Black” instrumental and creates this somberly melodic backdrop that Big L uses to warn the listener of the dangers that come with the street life: “I still chill with my peeps in the streets, but most of the time I’m in the crib writin’ rhymes to some dope beats, or either callin’ up some freaks to bone, but word up, I try to leave the streets alone, but it’s crazy hard kid, in other words, it’s spooky, the streets be callin’ me like the crack be callin Pookie, it aint a dumb joke, listen to this young folk, cause where I’m from you can choke from the gun smoke”. This is probably my favorite song on LODP&D.

Da Graveyard -I completely forgot Jay-Z made a cameo on LODP&D. Big L invites him, along with Lord Finesse, Microphone Nut (an early candidate for worst alias), Party Arty from Ghetto Dwellaz and Grand Daddy I.U. to join him on LODP&D‘s second cipher joint. Jay was clearly still a work in progress and far from the top-tier emcee he would soon become, but all parties involved turn in, at least, decent performances and navigate well around Buckwild’s dark and simple instrumental. Of course I have to crown a winner, and that would be Grand Daddy I.U., who steals the show with his potent closing verse.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous – Big L kicks some hi-larious lines on this one verse title track (i.e. “Breakin’ in cribs with a crowbar, I was po’ – I couldn’t afford the ‘or'”…”I told him “Give up the dough, before you get smoked, Oh you broke? *gunshots ring out* now you dead broke””…”Some say I’m ruthless, some say I’m grim, once a burglar broke into my house and I robbed him”), but Finesse’s instrumental sounds like a bunch of noise placed over a drum beat.

I Don’t Understand It – Showbiz’ instrumental sounds like a light-hearted version of “Chief Rocka”, only not nearly as dope. Big L uses the mediocre backdrop to question why wack emcees get on and why they take the opportunity for granted. This one could have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fed Up Wit The Bullshit – As the overly blunt an uncreative song title suggest, our host is fed u wit the bullshit. The bullshit in question is the treatment of young black men by the pigs police in the inner city: “Cause to me they aint nothin’ but harassers, that misuse their badges, to whip niggas asses, then one day they slow rolled through the hood, with they .38’s cocked, two deep up to no good, they say that my skin was black, so they attacked, threw me on my back and stuck a gat to my fuckin’ cap”. L’s also fed up with racist cab drivers and threatens to put a bullet through their windpipes during the song’s second verse. Finesse replays the bass line from The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets” and adds some jazzy horns and a Big Daddy Kane vocal sample during the refrain. It’s a decent instrumental, but too cheerful for Big L’s content.

Let ‘Em Have It “L” – The last song of the evening finds are host doing what he’s been doing pretty much the whole album: boasting about his lyrical prowess and threating to fuck niggas up: “The crown is still mine, cause I drop ill rhymes, a lot of rappers talk that murder shit and couldn’t kill time, one-two one-two, crews I run through, fuck karate, Big L practice gun-fu”. Craig Boogie (who gets the only production credit outside of the D.I.T.C. crew on LODP&D) hooks up a rough and dim instrumental that compliments Big L’s bars, nicely.

Big L is a competent emcee with witty metaphors and funny punchlines, but at times his flow sounds overly simplistic and his content on Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous quickly becomes redundant. Speaking of redundant, Buckwild, Showbiz and Lord Finesse fail Big L on the production side, as half the instrumentals sound the same and most of the music is just mediocre. I’m sure most readers will disagree with my synopsis, but Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous didn’t age well, it’s far from a classic and quite honestly, it’s a struggle to sit and listen to it from beginning to end. Feel free to stone me in the Comments, but listen to the album again before you do.

-Deedub

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Channel Live – Station Identification (March 21, 1995)

I don’t know a lot about the subject of today’s post, Channel Live. I do know that the East Orange, New Jersey duo consisting of Vincent “Tuffy” Morgan and Hakim Green, were discovered by the legendary BDP co-founder, KRS-One back in the nineties. With the teacher’s help, the students were able to secure a deal with Capitol Records where they would release their debut album, Station Identification.

KRS-One would produce about half of Station Identification, with Rheji Burrell and a young up and coming, Salaam Remi producing the other half. The album’s lead single (“Mad Izm”) made some noise on the hip-hop charts and gave the duo street cred, but the album wasn’t a commercial success.

I bought Station Identification on cd back in ’95 and haven’t listen to it since. The only thing I remember about the album are the singles. So without further ado, let’s revisit Station Identification, shall we?

Station Identification – The opening song and title track finds the New Jersey duo full of enthusiasm, flexing their intellectual stylings as they display some of their extensive vocabulary, wittiness and wordplay. KRS-One provides a decent instrumental for our hosts, although the sample of the woman harmonizing quickly becomes a bit annoying.

Channel 1 – Interlude that sets up the next song.

Lock It Up – Salaam Remi gets his first production credit of the evening and slides Channel Live a slick mid-tempo instrumental that they use to cleverly celebrate natural black hair: “As my dreadlock twist like a fist I got the punch, givin’ knots like my locks, I roll ’em up like blunts, twirled in the riddle, just bring the comprehension, I kick that real shit, not the wack extensions”. Well done, fellas.

Channel 2 – Interlude that sets up the next song.

What! (Cause And Effect) – Channel Live uses this one to call out rappers for their over usage of “nigga” and “bitch” in their rhymes. KRS hooks up a quality instrumental (built around the same Notations’ loop used for Big Daddy Kane’s “Dance With The Devil”) and our hosts do a solid job of getting their point across.

Mad Izm – This was the lead single from Station Identification and unanimously the biggest hit in Channel Live’s limited catalog. KRS-One joins his apprentices as they pass the mic like a blunt, while “puff, puff, passing”: “Wake up in the mornin’ got me yearnin’ for herb, which loosens up the nouns, metaphors and verbs, and adjectives, aint it magic kid, what I’m kickin’, multi-flavored bags of sess for the pickin'”. KRS-One is also responsible for the tough backdrop and adds a dope Buckshot vocal snippet to complete the song. Side note: Buckwild’s remix was pretty dope as well.

Reprogram – This one was decent enough, I guess.

Channel 3 – Interlude that sets up the next song, but this one is pretty funny.

Sex For The Sport – This was the second single released from Station Identification. Rheji Burrell builds a soothing groove around an O.C. Smith loop that Hakim and Tuffy use to cleverly compare sex to sports: “She’s beggin’ for my tongue to cease, so I halted, she wrestled me on the mat then up my pole she vaulted, gymnastic flips and other tricks is how my game is, I’m live when I dive into sex like Greg Louganis, I don’t come quick, sprints is not my meet, sex for the sport a gold medal athlete”. “Mad Izm” is Channel Live’s biggest hit, but this feel good bop is easily my favorite Channel Live song.

Channel 4 – By this point, I’m sure you can guess what this is and what it does.

Down Goes The Devil – Hakim and Tuffy are on their black militant shit for this one. KRS-One provides the semi-aggressive backdrop as the duo buck down their oppressors for all the pain and suffering they’ve cause the black man the past 400 plus years in North America: “They’ve been fucking us, and they’ve been crushing us, who stole 200 million from accounting? It wasn’t us, 400 years of murdering and pillage, is why you get my middle finger walkin’ through the village, why increase the peace while the beast increase the pressure? I’m tired of the lecture, the speech is gettin’ trifle, brothers killin’ brothers, time to redirect the rifle”. It would have been nice to hear the Teacher rejoin his students on this one, but it’s still a pretty dope record.

Build & Destroy – Channel Live digs back into their metaphor bag, as Tuffy kicks a verse comparing his rhymes to building and Hakim’s make reference to destroying. KRS-One builds (no pun intended) a solid mid-tempo instrumental to compliment the duo’s clever rhyme scheme.

Alpha & Omega – Salaam Remi gets his second production credit of the evening, and even though it’s not as dope as “Lock It Up”, it’s still decent. Hakim and Tuffy’s smart bars are up to par, even if the “crippling your rhyme style like Teddy Pendergrass” line was a bit insensitive.

Homicide Ride – Salaam Remi hooks up a slick mid-temp groove to escort Hakim and Tuffy on this homicide ride through your mind. Salaam’s instrumental is infectiously yummy, and my second favorite instrumental on the album, next to “Sex For The Sport”.

Who U Represent – The final song of the evening finds Channel Live giving props to the emcees they respect and were influenced by, which includes a shout out to A Tribe Called Quest during the first verse (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check). KRS loops up The Isley Brothers’ “Groove With You”, which makes for an adequate instrumental for Station Identification’s finale.

If Station Identification were a television network, it would be PBS. It provides quality and smart programming, but compared to NBC, CBS and ABC’s line-ups, it’s just not as entertaining. Hakim and Tuffy are intelligent, clever and more than capable emcees, but they lack personality and never truly identify their station during the album. KRS-One, Salaam Remi and Rheji Burrell do a solid job on the production side, but in a year stacked with superior output, Station Identification easily gets lost in the shuffle.

-Deedub

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2pac – Me Against The World (March 14, 1995)

Thanks to its lackluster production and poor mixing, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. is and will always be my least favorite 2pac album (fyi, I only count the albums from 2Pacalypse Now through The Don Killuminati as Pac’s catalog. The rest of those posthumous albums come with asterisks), regardless of how commercially successful it was. Musically, Pac would bounce back nicely in ’94 with his crew, Thug Life and the Volume 1 album, but his personal life was in shambles. He was charged and found guilty for assaulting Menace II Society co-director, Allen Hughes, in and out of court for sexually assaulting Ayanna Jackson (which he would eventually be convicted of and serve 9 months for in 1995), and to bring his already drama-filled year to an end, he was robbed and shot 5 times at Manhattan’s Quad Studios on November 30, 1994. But through all the turmoil, Pac was still able to record music and would release his third solo effort, Me Against The World in March of 1995.

Me Against The World would be released a month after Pac begin serving his sentence for sexual assault, which is why he wouldn’t appear in any of the music videos for the album’s singles. Me Against The World would go double platinum and Pac would become the first artist to have a number one album on the Billboard 200 while serving a prision sentence (this would become a marketing strategy that several labels and artists would soon follow). The album is universally considered Pac’s best work, and is often put on greatest of all-time list for hip-hop albums and all genres.

Me Against The World has always been my favorite 2pac album. It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to it from beginning to end, so let’s see how it sounds 25 years after its release.

IntroMe Against The World opens with a standard drum beat and some emotional guitar licks (courtesy of Darryl Crooks) placed underneath a bunch of snippets taken from news reports about the Quad Studio shooting that Pac survived. This is used to set up the next song.

If I Die 2nite – This is one of two tracks that the severely underappreciated Easy Mo Bee is credited for producing on MATW. Pac falls in love with words that start with P, as he potently plasters this song with a plethora of P words (see what I did there?): “They say pussy and paper is poetry, power and pistols”. What the hell does that mean? And who is the “they” that says that? Even with his ludicrous opening line (that he also uses to begin the third verse), he does spit some strong bars on this one: “I’m sick of psychotic society, somebody save me, addicted to drama so even mama couldn’t save me”…”Going insane, never die, I live eternal, who shall I fear? Don’t shed a tear for me nigga, I aint happy here, I hope they bury me and send me to my rest, Headlines reading: “Murdered To Death”, my last breath”. Pac rides Mo Bee’s solid backdrop, beautifully. I completely forgot about this song, so it ended up being a pleasant surprise.

Me Against The World – SoulShock & Karlin hook up a brilliant backdrop built around a well-used Isaac Hayes sample, an ill Minnie Riperton loop (from the same song that ATCQ sampled for “Lyrics To Go”…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), hard hitting drums, and angelic adlibs from Puff Johnson. Pac and Dramacydal (which is the name that Pac’s crew, Outlawz went by before changing the group name) use the beautiful instrumental to discuss the stress, problems and demons they face day to day in isolation. This song appeared in the movie Bad Boys and was on the soundtrack, which was released a week after MATW. This is easily one of my favorite songs in Pac’s catalog.

So Many Tears – This was the second single released from MATW. The D-Flizno Production Squad (which is another alias for D-Flow Production, which is Shock G and his Digital Underground team) is given the production credit for the bluesy backdrop (I love the Stevie Wonder harmonica sample and the breezy guitar licks courtesy of Eric “Kenya” Baker) that Pac uses to reminisce over his dead homies and contemplates his own death: “Now I’m lost and I’m weary, so many tears, I’m suicidal so don’t stand near me, my every move is a calculated step, to bring me closer to embrace an early death, there was no mercy on the streets, I couldn’t rest, I’m barely standing, bout to go to pieces, screaming peace”.  The content is depressing, but when combined with the dope production work, it makes for a classic record.

Temptations – This was the third and final single released from MATW. Pac eases out of the darkness from the previous song, as he wrestles with being in a monogamous relationship and the ever lingering feline temptation that awaits him: “A lot of people think it’s easy to settle down, gotta woman that’ll please me in every town, I don’t wanna, but I gotta do it, the temptation, got me ready to release the fluid, sensation”. Easy Mo Bee gets his second and final production credit of the evening and it’s a certified mid-tempo funk banger. This is a very underrated Pac record.

Young Niggaz – Pac reflects back to the days of his youth before the streets consumed him and stripped him of his child-like innocence, then he encourages any young kids listening to stay in school and out of the streets as the song closes. Moe Z.M.D. builds a decent traditional nineties west coast instrumental for Pac’s reflections. This one makes for decent filler material.

Heavy In The Game – Pac invites Richie Rich to spit a verse and Lady Levi (who made cameos on Dr. Dre and Warren G records) to sprinkle some reggae chants in between the song’s verses. Pac and Richie Rich don’t cover any new territory and I wasn’t crazy about the Mike Mosley/Sam Bostic instrumental.

Lord Knows – This one plays like a thug psalm. A vulnerable Pac is King David, pouring his heart out over Brian G’s somber west coast instrumental: “I smoke a blunt to take the pain out, if I wasn’t high I probably try to blow my brains out, I’m hopeless, they should have killed me as a baby, now they got me trapped in this storm, I’m going crazy”. This is another one of those personal and emotional joints that made Pac such a special artist.

Dear Mama – This was the lead single from MATW and easily the biggest hit in Pac’s celebrated catalog. Tony Pizarro creates a beautiful instrumental for Pac to rap heartfelt praises to his mama: “Cause when I was low you was there for me, and never left me alone because you cared for me, and I could see you comin’ home after work late, ya in the kitchen tryna fix us a hot plate, just workin’ with the scraps you was given, and mama made miracles every Thanksgiving, but now the road got rough, you’re alone, tryna raise to bad kids on your own, and there’s no way I can pay you back, but my plan is to show you that I understand: you are appreciated”. This timeless classic may be Pac’s magnum opus and is a strong argument for top ten hip-hop songs of all-time.

It Ain’t Easy – Tony Pizarro gets credit for this dope instrumental, but no credit is given to the talented soul who plays the shit out of the bass guitar throughout. Pac uses the delightful instrumental to talk about the struggles that comes with being 2pac, and adds a catchy hook to go with it. Definitely one of my favs on the album.

Can U Get Away -Mike Mosley builds a deep groove around an interpolation of Frankie Beverly & Maze’s “Happy Feelin’s”, as Pac tries to convince the objection of his erection (Ebony) to leave her abusive man for him and his thug lifestyle. Years before Apple, Pac had his own version of FaceTime, as he notices that Ebony is wearing glasses during their phone conversation at the beginning of the song (by the way, does anyone else remember the video phone that was briefly on the market back in nineties?). Other than that little miscue, this is an enjoyable little bop.

Old School – Pac pays homage to the culture and the emcees that came before him over SoulShock’s laidback uninspired instrumental. I love the sentiment, but this is easily one of my least favorite songs on MATW.

Fuck The World – Shock G brings a little more of the DU vibes with a Prince twist that Pac uses to give the world the middle finger. Yet another song on MATW that I forgot about. It’s not spectacular, but it’s a solid filler joint.

Death Around The Corner – This is easily one of my top five Pac songs of all time. Johnny J builds the instrumental around a soulful guitar loop that has a sense of urgency that matches Pac’s manic content and frantic flow: “I see death around the corner, gotta stay high while I survive, in the city where the skinny niggas die, if they bury me, bury me as a G nigga, no need to worry, I expect retaliation in a hurry, I see death around the- corner, any day, tryin’ to keep it together, no one lives forever anyway, stugglin’ and strivin’, my destiny’s to die, keep my finger on the trigger, no mercy in my eyes”. Pac’s paranoia and emotional bars sound superb over the raw production work.

Outlaw – For the final song of the evening, Pac invites Dramacydal back to join him, as they celebrate the thug life and the hopelessness that comes with it. Moe Z.M.D.’s dim west coastish backdrop works as the perfect canvas for all their thuggery.

For the majority of Me Against The World, Pac sounds like a paranoid psychiatric patient, sharing his thoughts in an attempt to exercise his demons, with the instrumentals serving as the couch he lays on, and we, the listening audience are his therapists. For some reason, I thought Easy Mo Bee produced more than 2 songs on MATW, but even with his limited contribution, the lesser known producers create a quality soundscape for our host to vent over. There are a few skippable moments and filler records that I forgot existed over the years, but the majority of MATW sounds so great that you’ll be willing to overlook the album’s few blemishes.

I don’t know if Pac was paranoid or prophesying on MATW (maybe a little bit of both?), but it sure made for some intriguing content and great songs. And it also gives merit to Proverbs 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

-Deedub

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Nine – Nine Livez (March 7, 1995)

Derrick Keyes, better known to the world as Nine, was a Bronx born and bred emcee who begin rapping and making records back in the mid-eighties. Under the alias of Ricochet, he was a part of a few short-lived groups that released some singles all produced by the legendary New York radio personality and Deejay, DJ Chuck Chillout. In 1986, Nine (who was going under the alias of 9 Double M) would link up with Funkmaster Flex, as the two were both part of a group called Deuces Wild. As a duo they would release an EP (more like a maxi-single) titled F.A.L.L.I.N. (And Ya’ Can’t Get Up) on Warlock Records in 1991. The project didn’t make much noise, but in ’93 Flex would release the single “Six Million Ways To Die” on Wreck Records, which featured bars from 9 Double M. The song created enough buzz to get 9 Double M a deal with Profile, where he would drop the “Double M” and simple go by Nine (because of his shoe size, lucky number and birth date: 9/19/69) and release his debut album, Nine Livez.

Nine would call on Rob Lewis (who he met and worked with during his Deuces Wild days) to produce the majority of Nine Livez with Tony Stoute producing the remainder of the album. Nine Livez wasn’t a commercial success, but the lead single “Whutcha Want?” made enough noise to convince Profile to give him a follow-up album, that we’ll discuss sometime in the not so near future.

I haven’t listened to Nine Livez in a long while, but I remember loving this album back in ’95. Let’s see if time…has been kind…to Nine. Bars, yo!

Intro (Death Of A Demo)Nine Livez opens with snippets from Nine’s demo tape, before an unimpressed A&R or record exec asks “do ya’ll got anything else?” (I personally thought they all sounded fire, but whatever). Things get kind of confusion after that, as it sounds like Nine dies and then he’s reborn through a record deal?? This intro then bleeds into the next song…

Ova Confident – Tony Stoute mixes an ill KRS-One vocal snippet with mellow vibes and heavy boom bap drums that combined create a sense of urgency. Nine uses the dope backdrop to introduce the listener to his raspy vocal tone, potent rhymes and quality flow.

Redrum – Stoute brings the energy down a bit from the previous track with this laidback instrumental built around a few sick out of key piano loops. Nine uses the ill backdrop to talk about murder (If you haven’t seen the movie The Shining, “redrum” is “murder” spelled backwards) and some of the things that lead people to commit murder as well. This was nice, and Nine’s harmonized growl on the hook is the cherry on top of this audio treat.

Da Fundamentalz – Nine starts this song off with one of the dopest opening lines in hip-hop history: “I waste emcees like time, the one and only incredible, original, Nine”. Our host’s bars only get stronger as the song goes on, as he obliterates Rob Lewis’ fire instrumental. This sounds as great today as it did 25 years ago.

Hit Em Like Dis – This might be the only questionable moment on Nine Livez. Our host pairs up his grimy growl with his alter-ego, Froggy Frog, who embarrassingly “ribbits” after each of his lines on this duet. I’m not sure why his boys didn’t tell him this gimmick was a bad idea, but hey… at least the instrumental is dope.

Who U Won Test – And right back to our regularly scheduled program. RL lays down a  banger for our host to devour like a lion pouncing on his prey. Then he walks away with the instrumental’s blood still dripping from his lips.

Whutcha Want? – This was the lead single from Nine Livez. RL hip-hops a few symphonic loops and turns them into this high energy instrumental for our host to rock over, and he doesn’t disappoint. Back in the day I stole the cassette version of this single from Sam Goody so me and my boys (Basement Crew in effect!) could rap over the instrumental version on the B-side. This is a certified banger and an unsung classic.

Fo’ Eva Blunted – RL slows the pace down a bit with this instrumental. Nine uses the soulful mid-tempo backdrop to spit reality raps, as he touches on the problems and pressures that come with living in the hood as a black man, which is why he resorts to weed to cope with it all: “Mad stress, thank God for the buddha bless, now it’s off my chest, until tomorrow it’ll happen again, I’ll still be hunted, I’ll still be wanted, so I’m forever blunted”.

Peel – Over a melodious melancholy backdrop (with an ill bass line), Nine’s looking to snatch the imaginary crown off the head of any so-called kings in this here rap ting. RL’s gorgeous instrumental is arguably my favorite on the album.

Retaliate – Tony Stoute hooks up a solid backdrop for Nine and his special guest, A.R.L Da X’rsis to pass the mic back and forth like Aaliyah on this duet. Both emcees turn in serviceable performances and A.R.L. gives me an early candidate for worst moniker.

Tha Cypha – RL cooks up some slick jazzy Inspector Gadget type shit for a hungry Nine to spew potent battle rhymes over, as he dares any rapper to step into his cypha: “One sucka, two sucka, three sucka, four suckas, bring more suckas, punk muthafuckas, talkin’ bout you can’t feel my style, I can’t feel you either, but I bet yo’ ass feel this meat cleaver”. He would also earn a spot in The Source’s once highly touted “Hip-Hop Quotable” column for the song’s final verse: “Save it, for David, easy back it up, I got OJ Simpson’s knife right at your gut, I do you like your name was Nicole, when I roll headspins, niggas drop like Ronald Goldman”. It’s kind of nasty that he wrote those lines less than a year after the two murders. Proof that Nine gave two fucks about the whole “too soon” rule of thumb.

Ahh Shit – Through the years I’ve heard many hip-hop producers sample Debarge’s classic record “All This Love”, but never has a sample of the smooth r&b groove sounded as dirty and gutter as RL’s interpretation on this record. Of course Nine matches its grit with grimy bars in his signature growl: “I get mad when niggas try to play me like I’m stupid, I start shootin’ like a revolution or Cupid, I don’t miss infrared type thing goin’ on, I drop a bomb like Hiroshima with my nina, then move my blade like a crossfade on your jawline, understand that Nine, is Optimus Prime”. The hook is kind of corny, but it’s still a raw record.

Everybody Won Heaven (Redrum The Remix) – Tony Stoute gets his final production credit of the evening, remixing his own “Redrum” joint. I like the O.G. instrumental, but the bleakness of the piano sample that Stoute uses on this remix gives me goosebumps. Nine doesn’t spit his strongest bars on this one (all though I love the poetic line: “I’m hittin’ like the raindrops, fallin’ from skies, when God cries, as the chosen man on stolen land dies”), as the final verse is pretty much him chanting meaninglessness, but his vocal tone alone sounds great over Stoute’s dark production.

Any Emcee – I believe this was the final single released from Nine Livez. RL builds the instrumental around the classic Spinners’ record “I’ll Be Around”, as Nine continues to wage lyrical war on any challenger that steps in his path.

Ta Rass – The last song on Nine Livez is a decent record, but easily the least entertaining song of the evening. But I still chuckle every time I hear Nine threaten “I’ll shove my balls in your mouth, you look like Dizzy Gillespie”.

Nine’s career will always be a conundrum to me. On Nine Livez he proves that he had bars, hunger, a quality flow and one of the most unique and illest voices in hip-hop history. And when you pair Nine’s undeniable emcee abilities with Rob Lewis and Tony Stoute’s brilliant production work, the results are a remarkable debut album from the self-proclaimed number one contender. Yet, Nine’s name is never mentioned amongst the greats in his class (of whom some he’s more talented than), just as Nine Livez is an overlooked, unappreciated footnote in the annals of hip-hop. To not proclaim Nine Livez a classic is a gross injustice, second only to the African Slave Trade.

-Deedub

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The Nonce – World Ultimate (February 28, 1995)

The Nonce (which is an old English word that means the one (or in this case: “the ones”)) was the L.A. based duo made up of Nouka Basetype and Yusef Afloat. After graduating from high school the two hip-hop heads, who were both deejays first, decided to start rhyming, formed a group and started recording music. They became a part of a larger L.A. based underground hip-hop collective called Project Blowed, which also included Aceyalone (from Freestyle Fellowship) who was also co-founder of the crew. After making some noise on the underground scene, The Nonce would eventually sign to Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label where they would release their debut album, World Ultimate.

The Nonce would handle all of the production work on World Ultimate, which included a few singles that would make a little noise on the hip-hop charts. World Ultimate wasn’t a commercial success and it would take years before most agreed that it was a critical darling. In 2012, the UK publication Fact called World Ultimate one of the “Most Overlooked Hip-Hop LP’s of the 90s”.

The Nonce would release another project in ’98 (which we’ll get to someday), but that would be the last music we would get from them as a duo. On May 21, 2000, Yusef Afloat was found dead on the side of Highway 110 in Los Angeles. The cause of his death has never been confirmed. He was only 28 years old.

On The Air – The first song of the evening features an airy backdrop with a soothing reoccurring sax loop that Yusef and Nouka each spit a verse over, showing gratitude for the opportunity to share their music with the world. The relaxing instrumental suits the duo’s vocal tones and sounds like something Drake would use if he came up during the mid-nineties.

Keep It On – The Nonce pick up the tempo and energy a bit with this melodious, refreshing and breezy backdrop, as Sef and Nouka continue to spew their serviceable abstract rhymes. This delectable instrumental is the audio equivalent of a never ending orgasm.

Bus Stops – This was the second single from World Ultimate. Nouka and Sef dedicate this one to all the fly honeys out there at the bus stop, malls or cruising around the city in their fly whips. Aceyalone stops by to play a radio deejay during the hook. It would have been nice to hear him spit a verse, but whatever. The drowsy jazzy backdrop is cool, and fits the vibe The Nonce has created to this point.

The West Is… – The Nonce invite a few of their friends (Butta B and Meen Green) to join them on this cipher joint, giving some local emcees a chance to shine on a bigger stage and rep for the West Coast. No one’s verse was mind blowing, but if I had to choose a winner (as I like to do with posse joints), Butta B walks away with the gold, giving merit to one of my favorite Jeru The Damaja lines: “I heard some emcees wanna bring it, but a female is one of their strongest men”.

Mix Tapes – This was the lead single and the reason I bought World Ultimate in the first place. The duo hook up a dope mid-tempo bop as Nouka takes a stroll back to the days when he was a DJ making beats and rockin’ parties. Yusef tacks on a third verse, just so he wouldn’t feel left out, I guess. The hook is catchy (and would have sounded even better if they got Nate Dogg to sing it) and the instrumental will keep your head bobbin’.

Testing – Short interlude that Sef and Nouka use to do a mic check. It was kind of weird to hear a mic check halfway through the album, but at least the jazzy instrumental playing underneath them was pleasing to the ear.

World Ultimate – The Nonce lay down a laid back jazzy instrumental built around a dope piano loop, as they continue to take turns flexing their abstract rhymes. By this point it’s pretty clear that Yusef is the stronger emcee of the two.

Good To Go – Our hosts get on their emcee shit with this one. Yusef and Nouka are in battle mode, throwing verbal darts at all wack emcees and “bitch ass niggas” over a slick jazzy backdrop. They also turn a classic EPMD line (shout out to Parrish Smith) into a catchy hook.

On The Road Again – No, this is not a remix of Willie Nelson’s classic, but instead it’s Sef and Nouka talking about life on the road doing shows. I absolutely love the creamy instrumental and the breathy and soothing singing by Figures of Speech on the hook.

Hoods Like To Play – This is probably my least favorite song on World Ultimate, but the instrumental is still pleasing. Especially the perfect sprinkling of that horn loop throughout the record.

J To The I – This is a PSA on safe sex. Over a mellow backdrop our hosts each spit a verse about the importance of putting a sock on jimmy before you poke the punani. Well done, fellas.

Eighty Five – Over yet another airy melodic backdrop, Nouka spits one quick verse dedicated to the mid-eighties. I could listen to this instrumental all day and never get tired of it.

Mix Tapes (1926 Sunday Night Remix) – The Nonce sample the same Moments song that T-Bone sampled for Kam’s “Still Got Luv 4 ‘Um” for this laid back remix that definitely sounds like something you would listen to on a Sunday night as the sun sets if you lived in Cali in the mid-nineties. They recycle Nouka’s verses from the original, but Yusef adds a new verse. Great way to close the album.

The Nonce’s spacious and jazzy brand of production on World Ultimate is soothing, relaxing and the perfect soundtrack for quarantining on a cloudy overcast day. Yusef and  Nouka are far from top tier emcees, but their abstract rhyme patterns and tenor vocal tones sound appropriate over their laidback production. World Ultimate is definitely an overlooked gem from hip-hop’s golden era.

-Deedub

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DJ Quik – Safe + Sound (February 21, 1995)

By 1995 DJ Quik was a well-respected hip-hop artist with two gold selling albums under his belt. His crispy clean brand of G-funk production, along with his distinctive ability to pick the right funk and soul loops helped him to create two nearly sonically flawless albums with his first two releases. He would pick up where he left off at in 1995 with his third release, Safe + Sound.

On Safe + Sound Quik would continue to produce his own songs and bring in true musicians to help craft and bring his musical ideas to life. And based on the album cover and artwork in the liner notes, he would also begin to embrace and be more vocal about his affiliation with the Tree Top Piru Blood set. It’s possible that this vocalization was influenced by his affiliation with Suge Knight, who was also a Blood and received an EP credit for the album. Safe + Sound would go on to earn DJ Quik his third consecutive gold plaque and cement him as a legitimate force to be reckoned with behind the boards.

Other than the album cover, I don’t remember much about Safe + Sound. I’m sure I bought it when it came out (and re-bought it later on), but I can’t recall any of the album cuts, yet alone the singles. Hopefully that’s not a bad indication of what’s to come.

Street Level EntranceSafe + Sound opens with Quik sharing a short poem about his attitude and a list of the things he cares about. Then he drops a mid-tempo funk groove and shouts out his hood and homeboys and gives a brief history of his stint in this here rap game. And of course he had to give the middle finger to MC Eiht.

Get At Me – Quik builds this ill funk backdrop around a Cameo loop and uses it to call out the Judases in his life, including a subliminal for his ex-crew member, AMG during the song’s first verse. This was pretty dope.

Diggin’ U Out – After a short vocal snippet taken from the classic Harlem Nights (one of my favorite movies, by the way), Quik and a young Warryn “The Boy Wonder” Campbell (who would go on to work with everybody from Mary Mary to Kanye West) on electric piano lay out a smooth funk groove that Quik uses to tackle one of his favorite topics: sex.

Safe + Sound – The title song starts with another Harlem Nights snippet and finds Quik and company hooking up another slick instrumental, as our host gives us a brief history of the hood upbringing that made him develop his love for money. Quik sounds nice, the hook is catchy and the laidback funk groove is infectious.

Somethin’ 4 The Mood – If you ever wanted to spend the day in the life of DJ Quik, this is the song for you. Quik and the crew hook up a breezy feel good instrumental (which is why I chuckle when I hear Quik call himself the “one man band” on the song’s final verse), complete with one of illest flute solos (courtesy of Robert “Fonksta” Bacon) at the end of the song.

Don’t You Eat It! – Intro that sets up the next song…

Can I Eat It? – Quik and George “G-One” Archie bring more new-age P-funk to the table, as our host gives us a PSA on the dangers of cunnilingus. “Well my nigga, you ought to save yourself some grief, if it ain’t worth having a little hair in your teeth, Cause you’ll come up sho’t, with a full pair of nuts and a lump in your throat”. Quik’s animated rhymes paired with his well-executed voice box usage (shout out to Roger Troutman) and the funky bop, makes for an entertaining listen.

Itz Your Fantasy – This is strictly for the grown, sexy and freaky. Quik and his team put together a silky smooth instrumental that Quik uses to get super detailed and blunt about a sexapade with a young lady (I chuckle every time I hear him tell her to “get ready for a toss and some dick sauce”). This is was you get when raunchy and sophistication meet in the middle.

Tha Ho In You – 2nd II None (KK and Gangsta D) and Hi-C (who strangely shouts out AMG on his verse, even though Quik was clearly not on good terms with him earlier on this album) join Quik on this posse joint as they dedicate this one to the inner-hoe that lives within all women. Sexy Leroy and The Chocolate Lovelites, who we first heard on Way 2 Fonky’s “Let Me Rip Tonite”, return to croon a breezy hook on this fun feel good lyrical orgy.

Dollaz + Sense – This song was originally released on the Murder Was The Case Soundtrack in ’94. Quik cooks up a cool mid-tempo track that sounds like a mid-nineties club joint, but instead of making people dance, Quik uses it to fire more shots at his Compton arch nemesis, MC Eiht. He lands a few nice blows (i.e. “Givin’ your set a bad name, with your misspelled name, E-I-H-T, now should I continue? You left out the “G” cause the G aint in you”), and even though I knew that Quik claimed a Blood set, I never put two and two together as to why he spelled “Quik” without a “C” until recently listening to this song (“There’s only one DJ Q-U-I-K, with no “C” , still you can’t be me”). Not a great dis record, but I’ve heard worst.

Let You Havit – Quik’s in gangsta mode on this one, sending out threats, including more bars aimed at Eiht. He also discusses the misunderstanding that led to the feud between the two in the first place. Quik sounds nice rhyming over the funk groove that makes for great roller skating music.

Summer Breeze – I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s a decent joint that lives up to its name.

Quik’s Groove III – For the third installment of “Quik’s Groove” our host invites Robert Bacon (on bass and guitar), Warryn Campbell (on piano) and Charles “Chaz” Greene (on flute) to create a beautifully smooth instrumental. Part 1 is still my favorite, though.

Sucka Free – Quik lays a decent instrumental for his homie, Playa Hamm (one-half of the Penthouse Players Clique) to spit one quick verse on this makeshift interlude. It wasn’t terrible, but it doesn’t have much replay value either.

Keep Tha “P” In It – Quik and the band hook up a jazz-flavored G/P funk concoction, as our host invites Playa Hamm, 2-Tone, Kam, Hi-C and 2nd II None to join him on this family affair. Everyone holds their own, but the music is the true star of this one.

Hoorah 4 Tha Funk (Reprise) – Quik brings back the Funk instrumental from the intro and gives a few closing words and shout outs.

Tanqueray – This is a hidden bonus track. Over a very generic instrumental, Quik relives a party at his house where Tanqueray had everybody wilin’, including our host himself, who claims it moved him to spit and hit a chick in the mouth for saying “rappers ain’t shit”. I sure hope this story is all made up and not true. Good thing this was a hidden track, because there’s not much to see here.

Quik stays true blue (or should I say true red?) to his crispy clean brand of P-funk production on Safe + Sound, as he and his band of musicians build even more layered and musically dense instrumentals than his previous projects. Quik will never find his name on anyone’s top 20 emcee list, as his content is limited and a bit juvenile, but his slightly nasal vocal tone and solid flow sound nice over his well-crafted backdrops. I personally wouldn’t call Safe + Sound a classic, but I wouldn’t argue with you if you did.

-Deedub

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