Makaveli – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (November 5, 1996)

In February of 1996, 2Pac made history becoming the first rapper to release a double album in All Eyez On Me. The historic project would go on to reach diamond status and the streets and critics would hail the project one of the greatest hip-hip albums of all time, like they have with every other 2Pac album that is not 2Pacalypse Now. After his well-documented prison stent and Death Row assisted release, All Eyez On Me seemed like it would be the spark to cause a resurgence in Pac’s career. But things would take a tragic turn, when on September 7, 1996, after leaving the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight, he would get shot four times in a drive by shooting and sadly, six days later, on September 13, die from his wounds. But prior to that fateful night, in between shooting movies (Gridlock’d and Gang Related), Pac was recording new music, and some of those songs would become his first posthumously released album under his new alias, Makaveli, titled: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.

Pac’s new alias (Makaveli) was taken from the name of the16th century Italian philosopher/author/ diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, who was one of the first political writers to separate politics from morality and would coin the saying: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Killuminati is a combination of kill and illuminati, and I’ll let you make of that what you’d like. The 7 Day Theory references the amount of time it allegedly took to complete the album; three days for Pac to write and record his rhymes and four days to mix it (there is also an easily accessible demo tape referred to as The 3 Day Theory, which only accounts for Pac’s writing and recording time, and it has a slightly different track list than the final project). While the infamous cover artwork for 7 Day Theory (which displays an image of 2Pac being crucified on a cross like Jesus) has become legendary, it’s also worth noting that the original back album cover featured animated artwork poking fun at Biggie, Puffy and Dr. Dre. Suge Knight and Death Row Records decided to remove it after Pac’s death, but like everything else in the world, you can find it on the internet with a quick Google search. 7 Day Theory would become certified platinum just two months after its release, and to date it has sold over four million copies domestically. Most of the critics showered 7 Day Theory with heaps of praise, and like his two previous albums (Me Against The World and All Eyez On Me), many proclaimed it Pac’s best work and one of the greatest albums of all-time.

As an author, Niccolò Machiavelli’s most renowned work was his politically charged book titled, The Prince (which is where the “Better to be feared” quote comes from). It wouldn’t get published until five years after his death. I’ll leave that right here.

Intro – The album opens with a fake music news reporter announcing 2pac’s new alias (Makaveli), the release of 7 Day Theory and a conspiracy theory that a bunch of New York rappers (led by Nas, Mobb Sleep, Notorious P.I.G. and Jay-Z of Hawaiian Sophie fame) are out to assassinate he and Death Row’s character, followed by a passionate statement from our thugged out host.

Bomb First (My Second Reply) – Darryl “Big D” Harper supplies a haunting melody over quiet riot drums and a devious bass line (borrowed from Fred Wesley’s often sampled, “More Peas”) that Pac uses to pledge his allegiance to the West Coast and Death Row and declares war, specifically taking aim at Bad Boy, Jay-Z and Mobb Deep on this one. Pac invites a few of his Outlawz foot soldiers, E.D.I Mean and Young Noble, to bust shots (which includes E.D.I. taking a random shot at Xzibit, referring to him as “that nigga that made “Paparazzi,”” and questions why he’s in the game if it isn’t for the money) and the energy quickly plummets. But Pac, I mean, Makaveli, resurfaces at the end of the song, rescuing the track after his cronies’ pedestrian performance with a classic battle-ready war chant to close things out.

Hail Mary – This was the third and final single released from 7 Day Theory. Hurt-M-Badd sets the tone with a darkly moody backdrop, accented by a cloudy bass line, and Pac starts it off sounding like a Baptist preacher, while his spooky melodic prayer refrain plays underneath his short sermon. Pac gets off two verses full of his signature rhetoric (i.e., hood psalms, enemy paranoia, violence, and just an overall “fuck the world” mentality), which also includes Pac’s classic opening line: “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me, revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin’ pussy.” Once again, our gracious host yields and let’s his Outlawz bredrin (Kastro, Young Noble, and Kadafi) spit a few feeble bars full of run of the mill street shit. This one ends with a spoken word piece from Ital Joe fused into Pac’s hook, making Joe’s poem nearly impossible to understand. Even with its flaws, this record still sounds great. The music and Pac’s classic hook (which might be the catchiest hook in hip-hip history) make for the perfect soundtrack for a seance.

Toss It Up – This was the lead single from 7 Day Theory. It starts out sounding like it’s just going to be a sex song with Pac’s lusty opening verse, followed by a couple of verses, a bridge and a hook of corny lines and cliche-filled crooning from Danny Boy, K-Ci, JoJo and Aaron Hall (with the cheesiest line coming from K-Ci: “Oh, don’t act so shady, baby, your taste is fine as gravy”). Then Pac comes back with a random verse, dissing Dr. Dre for leaving Death Row, and just like that, all the vagina that was previously soaking wet due to the singing from Pac’s legendary R&B guests (and Danny Boy) turns as dry as a desert. The instrumental (which is credited to Demetrius Shipp, who is also the father of Demetrius Shipp Jr., who played Pac in the 2017 biopic, All Eyez On Me (How’s that for a full circle moment?)) is a knock off of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” that uses the classic “Playa, playa, playa, playa” bridge and substitutes the Bill Withers’ moan with an annoying posse said “Ooh!” (The original version of “Toss It Up” was a complete jack of Teddy Riley’s “No Diggity” instrumental (and it didn’t include the Dre dis verse), until TR made a call to then Interscope head, Jimmy Iovine along with a cease-and-desist letter to get it removed from radio rotation, which is why if you listen closely, you can hear Pac dissing Mr. Riley, along with a host of others, during his song closing rant) I didn’t care for this track back in ‘96 and it sounds even worst today.

To Live & Die In L.A. – This was the second single released from 7 Day Theory. It opens with a short radio snippet that implies their discussing Pac’s Biggie diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up.” Then QDIII gets his lone production credit of the evening, hooking up a feel-good mid-tempo summertime appropriate bop. But don’t let the sunshine endorsing music confuse you, as Pac’s ode to Los Angeles is full of cold and callous content: “Everybody got their own thing, currency chasin’, worldwide through the hard times, worrying faces, shed tears as we bury niggas close to heart, was a friend, now a ghost in the dark, cold part about it, nigga got smoked by a fiend, tryna floss on him, blind to a broken man’s dream.” Val Young (who Pac refers to as his angel) lends her gritty soulful vocals to the beautiful instrumental, bringing some contrasting light to Pac’s dark decorum. And of course, Dre had to catch a stray at the end of the record.

Blasphemy – This one starts with a skit of a preacher preaching a sermon in a distorted voice, as horror movie like notes play behind him. Then Hurt-M-Badd’s spooky and pensive backdrop comes in and Pac kicks it off discussing his family tree (which according to him, “Consists of drug dealers, thugs and killas”) and shares some of the game his Pops gave him as young whippersnapper (but just the first two rules of the game; I’m dying to know what his dad’s other eight hood commandments are). The rest of the song finds Pac contemplating life, death, religion and the afterlife. Ital Joe returns, and this time he provides a meaningful chant for the hook. I completely forgot about this record, and ironically, it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Life Of An Outlaw – Pac and the Outlawz (this time it’s Young Noble, E.D.I. Mean, Kastro and Napoleon) celebrate thug life on this one. The sultry instrumental (which Pac receives a production credit for, along with Big D) was dope, but the true star on this record are the uncredited human fingers that played the ridiculously funky bass guitar licks all over the track.

Just Like Daddy – Pac and his goons (E.D.I. Mean, Yaki Kadafi and Young Noble) sound a little creepy on this one. What’s supposed to be a thug love song sounds more like the fellas are preying on young women with daddy issues, using the ladies’ insecurities and desire for a strong male figure in their lives as a way to get the draws. The content is cringe worthy, the hook is lazy and redundant, and the instrumental feels aimless.

Krazy – This one finds our host in a deep “woe is me” funk, and since misery loves company, Bad Azz joins his friend, adding to the gloomy mood. The bluesy music sounds appropriate backing Pac and his guest’s melancholy content, but it’s boring as hell, and Bad Azz’ whispering monotone voice almost put me to sleep.

White Man’z World – The track opens with a distorted clip from the Spike Lee Joint, Malcom X (the scene where crooked-ass Baines is trying to get Malcom to convert to the Nation of Islam while they’re both in prison), setting the premise for the song that Pac uses to address the struggle of the Black man and woman in America. I appreciate Pac’s intent, but the rhymes feel rushed, the instrumental’s uninteresting, and Danny Boy’s overly wordy hook sounds strained and quickly begins to grate on the ears.

Me And My Girlfriend – Pac steps out of his comfort zone and gets into his metaphor bag, painting his gun as his ride or die chick. The song idea was obviously influenced by Pac’s alleged conspirator’s record (Nas’ “I Gave You Power”), but while Nas painted the gun’s perspective, Pac comes from the point of view of the manic gun owner: “My girlfriend, darker than the darkest night, when niggas act bitch made she got the heart to fight, Nigga, my girlfriend, though we separated at times, I knew deep inside baby girl would always be mine, picked you up when you was nine, started out my life a crime with you, bought you some shells when you turned twenty-two.” The seductive Latin strings in the instrumental (that Pac receives a credit for, along with Big D Harper and Hurt-M-Badd) and the chilling hook and refrain are the perfect accomplices for Pac’s well-executed concept. This is easily the strongest record on 7 Day Theory, and it holds a place on my imaginary top ten Pac song list.

Hold Ya Head – Over Hurt-M-Badd’s somberly emotional instrumental, Pac gets into more of his morbid death talk and depressing hood politics, all in an unorthodox effort to encourage the listener to stay strong. This is a decent record, but it definitely should have been sequenced before the electric “Me And My Girlfriend.”

Against All Odds7 Day Theory ends with a slick instrumental with subdued somber vibes, led by a quiet rumbling bass line, as our host loads the clip one last time to buck shots at some of his adversaries. The first verse takes aim at a few of the usual suspects: Nas, Dr. Dre, Mobb Deep and Puffy. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Pac closes the verse by dissing…De La Soul: “Niggas lookin’ like Larry Holmes (look at De La Soul!), flabby and sick, tryna playa hate on my shit, you eat a fat dick” (Apparently, Pac was upset about their “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)” video that parodied his “I Get Around” video). The second verse it dedicated to Haitian Jack (who Pac believed set him up for the rape conviction he would serve time for), Jimmy Henchmen and Tut (both of whom Pac believed set him up during the 1994 Quad Studios robbery and shooting), and the third verse goes back at Puffy, throws a quick jab at Big Stretch (“And that nigga that was down for me, restin’ dead, switched sides, I guess his new friends wanted him dead”; you may remember Stretch as part of the group and production team, Live Squad, but he also collabed with Pac on a few records, dating back to the 2Pacalypse Now album. Pac felt Stretch was also involved in setting him up during the Quad Studio incident, and coincidently (or on purpose?), Stretch would be murdered in a drive-by shooting on November 30, 1995, exactly a year to the date of the Quad Studios incident), but it’s mainly dedicated to Nas: “Lord, listen to me, God don’t like ugly, it was written, Ayo, Nas, your whole damn style is bitten, you heard my melody (this nigga sound like Rakim!), read about my life in the papers, all my run-ins with authorities, felonious capers.” Pac definitely leaves us with some intriguing content (or as he calls it during the hook, “the truest shit I ever spoke”), which gives me goosebumps when I think about how things went down at the end of his life.

7 Day Theory starts out pretty strong. With the exception of “Toss It Up,” the production on the first six tracks is vibeable, matched by viable output from Pac, who repeatedly saves tracks when his band of Outlawz try their damnedest to sabotage songs every chance they get. But things get dicey around the midway point. “Just Like Daddy,” “Krazy,” and “White Man’z World” might be the trifecta for most boring consecutive songs on a hip-hop album. Sometimes you can listen to an album repeatedly and certain songs you didn’t enjoy the first few times through start to grow on you, but that’s not the case with these three records. They’re just as painful to listen to for the hundredth time as they were the first. Pac closes out 7 Day Theory strong with the album’s crown jewel (“Me And My Girlfriend”), followed by two more solid tracks, wisely leaving his cronies on the bench for the album’s home stretch.

It’s fair to say that Pac was never a top-tier lyricist, but what he lacked in lyricism he more than made up for with captivating cadences, compelling voice inflections, irresistible haunting hooks, and raw emotion; and the combination of these attributes gave him the uncanny ability to tap into the emotions of his listeners. The cadences, inflections and hooks are alive and well throughout 7 Day Theory, but most of Pac’s rhymes, while technically sound, ring hollow and lack that emotional connection that made Pac one of the (if not the most) beloved emcee in the history of hip-hop.

The circumstances, conditions and mystique surrounding 7 Day Theory (mainly it being released just two months after Pac’s death) has made many a fan and critic proclaim the album a classic and Pac’s magnum opus (which is actually Me Against The World, if you ask me). But I ask you, if Ben Simmons were the shooter and Pac survived that fateful night in Vegas, would the album garner the same admiration and praise? Despite an overabundance of underwhelming cameos, the lulling midway point and Pac’s somewhat soulless content, 7 Day Theory is still a decent album. And it proves the theory that you can make a hip-hop masterpiece in just seven days is false.

-Deedub

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YoYo – Total Control (October 29, 1996)

By 1996, YoYo was a seasoned vet in the game, known mainly for her conscious messages, specifically focused on the upliftment of Black women, hence the formation of her Intelligent Black Woman Coalition aka IBWC. Under the tutelage of Ice Cube, the South Central L.A. emcee was able to string together three respectable albums (Make Way For The Motherlode, Black Pearl and You Better Ask Somebody) that would bear fruit to a few mild hit singles (see “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” “Black Pearl,” and “The Bonnie And Clyde Theme”). But in ‘94, Yolanda would raise her profile, after making a cameo appearance on the remix for Brandy’s debut hit single, “I Wanna Be Down,” alongside Queen Latifah and MC Lyte. YoYo has said in interviews that around the same time she was yearning for more creative freedom on her records and wanted to shed her “hardcore” persona and embrace her feminine side (“I wanted to be pretty, I needed make-up and hair, I wanted them to see the woman that I am…know that I don’t have a gat in my purse”), which would be the muse for her fourth release, Total Control.

As the title suggests, YoYo would have more creative control over the album. She’s credited as the album’s sole executive producer, and this would be her first outing that Ice Cube didn’t oversee. The underappreciated, Battlecat is credited with producing five of the album’s ten tracks, with a few other hands handling the rest, and YoYo would invite some special guests to appear on a handful of songs as well. Unfortunately, YoYo wasn’t able to build on her Brandy exposure, as Total Control would be a commercial failure and would be the last album YoYo would release into the world (there was a fifth album recorded, Ebony, which was shelved and would never see the light of day). Nowadays you can catch YoYo taking part in the buffoonery that takes place on the VH1 reality TV series, Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood.

I found YoYo’s first three releases moderately enjoyable, so when I came across a used CD copy of Total Control, I had to cop. Not only to check out the music, but also to complete my YoYo collection. This is my first time listening to Total Control, so let’s see how things went without Cube’s vision or should I say, Cube Vision (*rimshot*).

One For The Cuties – YoYo kicks off Total Control with a MC Lyte duet that finds the two veteran emcees body shaming men, height shaming men, and sexually objectifying them. Lyte sets the tone with her opening line: “I keep ‘em on lock down but I gets around, he can tie me up, I’ll be damned I let him tie me down.” The ladies dedicate the hook to all the attractive big dick brothers with money, leaving all the ugly broke little dick dudes feeling like shit. Battlecat provides a breezy synth backdrop that works nice behind these two beautiful Queens, who sound like their having a ball (no pun intended) doing what male rappers have done to women in song for decades.

YoYo Funk – Battlecat (with a co-credit going to YoYo) interpolates Tom Browne’s “Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.),” turning the classic record into a slower water submerged G-Funk groove that our hostess uses to celebrate her music, but more so, her body. The hook includes a Zapp-esque voice singing and Ruff Dogg (worst alias candidate) borrowing a line from “Bonita Applebum” (the classic Tribe record even gets a sample credit in the liner notes…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). I didn’t like this one my first few listens through, but Battlecat’s beat, and YoYo’s funk are starting to grow on me.

Bonnie And Clyde II – YoYo and Ice Cube return with the sequel to one of YoYo’s biggest singles off the You Better Ask Somebody album. By ‘96, Ice Cube was deep into his movie bag, so it’s only right that he serves up a criminal script for he and his partner in crime that finds the duo involved in a drug heist that results in murder and a shootout with 5-0 (oh, how they have both fallen from consciousness). Battlecat lays warm synthesized notes over the drums from Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce,” and this one ends up being mildly entertaining. Side note: During the break after the second verse, Battlecat slices up a bunch of vocal snippets, which includes an often-used Q-Tip line from “Hot Sex” (“Where Ya At?”). Just wanted to offer up a second option for Tribe Degrees of Separation in case the first one didn’t suffice.

Steady Risin’ – DJ U-Neek builds the instrumental around an interpolation of Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real,” as Yo talks her shit and rides the polished poppy beat, effectively. Shout out to Cheryl Miller and rip to Aretha Franklin, George and Weezy.

Same Ol’ Thang (Everyday) – Yolanda gets off three verses about three different male suitors or boyfriends: Guy one, she meets at a club and all he wants to do is spend money on her, which for some reason is a problem for our hostess. Guy two is a hardworking man who works so hard he doesn’t have the energy to spend quality time with her, or as she hi-lariously puts it: “This Al Bundy ass nigga treatin’ me like Peg, never wanna bring his workin’ ass to bed” (random thought: I never understood why Al treated Peg like that. Her wig was kind of goofy, but she looked alright in them leggings and heels). And guy three is a loser drug dealer who still lives with his mom but for one reason or another, YoYo can’t seem to get enough of him. I’m not sure what the hook (which heavily borrows from Cherrelle’s “Saturday Love” and is sung by a lady, simply credited as Dori) has to do with the verses, and honestly, I’m not sure what the purpose of this song was.

Tre’ Ride – YoYo celebrates the West Coast car culture and dedicates this one to her souped up ‘63 Chevy Impala. The whole notion that YoYo drives around South Central L.A. hittin’ switches and three-wheel motion sounds a bit unbelievable, but the soft slightly seductive tone she uses during this song makes her adventures in dippin’ through the hood sound appealing. Even more appealing is the Moe Dee/Lea Reis concocted smooth funk groove that’s punctuated by seductive guitar licks, courtesy of Ricky Rouse. And shout out to MC Breed (rip) for using his soulful gravelly voice to provide the dope and catchy hook.

Body Work – The listener is immediately greeted by clapping drums, a cheesy Casio keyboard melody, the late Teena Marie singing adlibs, and YoYo shooting down a brother’s attempt to get the draws, before quickly caving in. The rest of the song consist of YoYo flirting with said dude, repeatedly inviting the lucky young man to “Slip it in and press play,” boasts of having a bomb box, only to sound super insecure seconds later when she asks him how good her box was (“Was it better from the back on every track? I won’t be offended if you say the shit is wack”). Teena Marie is a legend and God bless the dead, but she has been known to miss a note or two during her lengthy career. At certain points on this record, some of her adlibs and runs sound horrendous. But in her defense, the hook is so cheesy I don’t even think Whitney Houston (rip) could have made it work. This record is an absolute train wreck.

How Can I Be Down – Rough Dogg returns and joins YoYo on this duet that finds the two exchanging generic clichés and cheesy one-liners (Rough Dogg wins cheesiest line of the song with “You got my meat, harder than concrete”) over a happy synthesized backdrop with an imitation Roger Troutman singing the hook. This is bubble gum rap at its finest.

Thank You, Boo – YoYo plays the role of a woman who’s found out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and she spends the rest of the song masking her hurt and pain with fake gratitude (by the way, if you claim to have “the best pussy in the world” and your man is treating you like his “number three girl,” your pussy might not be as good as you think it is). Treach peaks in for a quick second and gets off half a bar towards the end of the song (he also receives a writing credit in the liner notes, and the hook reeks of his pen). I’m sure at some point over the past twenty-seven years this song has been a source to help some heartbroken young lady heal, but I’m not her and this one didn’t do much for me.

YoYo’s Night – Our gracious host closes out the album with a remake of Kool & Gang’s hit record, “Ladies Night.” Warren G provides a smooth but slippery G-Funk groove that YoYo uses to proudly boast about her thigh gap and being “thick as tree trunk” (yummy to both of those attributes), but ultimately, she’s looking to let her hair down and have a good time. Similar to “YoYo Funk,” this was a pretty unimaginative record, but I still enjoyed it. And shoutout to the uncredited vocalist who did her thing on the hook.

With YoYo at the creative helm, Total Control definitely has a different sound than her previous three albums. Gone are the Black woman empowerment themes and positive messages. Instead, Yolanda spends the bulk of the album discussing relationships, dick and her vagina (without sounding crass or vulgar), often rolling all three topics into the same conversation. Along with the change in content, the production on Total Control has a polished contemporary R&G-Funk sound that isn’t spectacular or horrible but falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

I think it’s fair to call Total Control YoYo’s sellout album. The heavily R&B seasoned instrumentals and the easily accessible pop remakes paired with her dumbed down content are clear indicators that she was chasing commercial success this go round. And even with crossover aspirations, Total Control isn’t a bad album. It just doesn’t have enough meat or memorable moments, and without a strong single, it’s easily forgettable.

-Deedub

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Ghostface Killah – Ironman (October 29, 1996)

Wu-Tang Clan made quite the first impression with their 1993 multi-platinum selling debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album was not only a commercial success, but a critical darling, and along with Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, it would help give a boost to what was a sluggish representation coming from East Coast Hip-hop, ushering in the next wave of New York emcees (i.e., Biggie, Nas, Mobb Deep and Jay-Z). 36 Chambers would also help launch the solo careers of each of its nine members (before you hit me in the comments, I’m fully aware that Rza aka Prince Raheem and Genius had solo albums before 36 Chambers…I’m only referring to the Wu-Tang era). Method Man would strike first with Tical in November of ‘94, and 1995 would bring solo albums from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and Gza. 1996 would bring just one Wu-Tang solo release at the tail end of the year, which also happens to be the subject of today’s post. Ghostface Killah’s Ironman.

While Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was billed as a Raekwon solo album, it was really a Raekwon/Ghostface Killah collab effort, as Ghost appears on fourteen of the album’s seventeen tracks, including his very own solo joint (the bottom of the album cover even reads: “Guest starring Ghostface Killah aka Tony Starks”). Ironman would build on Cuban Linx collaborative spirit, as Ghost would not only have Raekwon as a guest star, but the unofficial tenth member of Wu-Tang, Cappadonna, would also appear on a handful of the album’s tracks. Rza would produce all but one track on Ironman (with True Master credited for the loosie) and like all the other Wu-Tang solo projects, it would be laced with heaps of cameos from the rest of the Wu-Tang members. Ironman would go on to receive positive reviews and would earn a gold plaque within three months of its release, eventually reaching platinum status.

Finally, an album that I actually bought when it came out back in ‘96. Ironman’s received plenty of play from me over the past twenty-five plus years, so this should be a fun refresher.

Iron Maiden – After a snippet taken from the seventies Blaxploitation flick, The Education of Sonny Carson plays to open up the album (which includes a heated and humorously entertaining exchange), Rza drops an adrenaline pumping cinematic backdrop complete with blaring horns that feels like it was custom made for a high-speed car chase scene in a movie. Raekwon bats first and gets off a verse full of his ill abstract Shaolin slang (“Yo, Gambino niggas, who swipe theirs, deluxe rap cavaliers, midgets who steal beer, give ‘em theirs”), followed by Ghost, who sounds flustered and frantic but still highly entertaining (shoutout to Luke, Laura and General Hospital). Then Cappadonna, who unexpectedly stole the show early the same year on the Wu posse joint from the Don’t Be A Menace Soundtrack, “Winter Warz” (more on that song in a bit), does it again, as he puts together another sharp verse to shut down and close out this song. The Rza brilliantly weaves the three verses together with more Sonny Carson soundbites and soulful filmic breaks. This may be the greatest album opening track in hip-hop history. Yeah, I said it.

Wildflower – This one begins with a snippet from another seventies Blaxploitation flick, J.D.’s Revenge (after Kung-Fu flicks, Rza’s second preferred movie genre is clearly Blaxploitation movies…and shoutout to the underappreciated, Glynn Turman), which sets the tone for the song. Rza slides our host somber Kung-Fu flick chords to angrily spit bars at his cheating woman. The song starts with Jaime Sommers (who plays the cheating girlfriend) spittin’ a few bars, before Ghost abruptly cuts her off by calling her a “bitch” and then admits to fuckin’ her friend, even providing the date the infidelity took place (February 17th, which just happens to be three days after Valentine’s Day). He spends the rest of the verse furiously calling her out her name, reminding her of how he improved her life (by introducing her to Robert De Niro flicks and teaching her to eat healthy) and explaining how bad her infidelity has hurt him (“Gave away my pussy, that shit hurt, it feel like somebody died or shot your Old Earth”). He hi-lariously ends the song by telling her “My dick’s the bomb, baby,” before leaving her on this note: “I’m God Cipher Divine, love my pussy refined, that means clean, a FDS smell with a shine.” Classic shit.

The Faster Blade – Ghost got a solo joint on Cuban Linx (see “Wisdom Body”), so it’s only right that he repays Rae with his very own record on Ironman. Rae uses the sleek mid-tempo instrumental to get off one verse filled with more slick slang that I can’t completely follow, but per usual, he makes the shit sound amazing.

260 – This one begins with another Sonny Carson soundbite, before the darkly soulful instrumental drops (I love the menacing sound of the horns) and Ghost and Rae spin a colorfully detailed story about a drug heist they pulled off in Building 260 2L in a Staten Island Housing Project. Well done, fellas.

Assassination Day – Rza cooks up a slow-rolling grimy backdrop that he, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon and Masta Killa each spit battle bars over, while Ghost runs for a quick potty break. Needless to say, his bredrin hold him down lovely while he relieves himself.

Poisonous Darts – This one starts with a vintage Rza Kung-Fu flick soundbite that his ruggedly sinister backdrop quickly joins to put the battery pack in Ghost. Our host sounds recharged and refreshed after his short break, as he spazzes out on the track with braggadocious bars and funny punchlines.

Winter Warz – As I mentioned earlier, this song was originally released on the Wayans Brothers’ hood parody movie, Don’t Be A Menace (I refuse to type out the full ridiculously long movie title). Rza provides the slick head nodding canvas (courtesy of his console), Rae takes care of hook duties, while U-God, Ghost and Masta Killa play the opening acts for Cappadonna who completely annihilates this beat and everyone that jumped on it with him. If you’ve never heard this song before, go check out Cappa’s colossal closing verse before you continue reading this post. I’ll wait.

Box In Hand – The unsung but legendary Force MD’s start this one by reinterpreting The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye,” then abruptly stop for no foreseen reason, before Rza drops an instrumental that sounds like something left over from the Tical sessions. Speaking of Tical, Meth stops by and joins Ghost and Rae as the three emcees truel it out over the less than spectacular instrumental. If I had to take one song off Ironman, it would definitely be this one.

Fish – This is the only track on Ironman that Rza didn’t produce. True Master gets the credit and serves up a brilliant instrumental that sounds weary, resilient and triumphant, all at the same time. Ghost sets the tone with his opening verse (“We eat fish, toss salads, and make love ballads,” and later he boasts that Primatene Mist is afraid of his lungs) and Rae and Cappa follow suit. This has always been one of my favorite songs on Ironman, mainly due to TM’s marvelous backing music.

Camay – Rae, Cappa and Ghost (in that order) get struck by Cupid’s arrow and it’s got them pouring their hearts out to the objects of their affection without a bunch of cliches or going extra heavy on the cheese (Ghost’s animated verse will make you chuckle or at least smile). If you’ve ever been temporarily mesmerized or infatuated by a woman’s splendor, then you can easily relate to the trio’s rhymes. Rza builds the soothing backdrop around a seductive bass line, a sexy piano loop, and a splash of Teddy Pendergrass’ smooth vocals to bring all the pieces together on this fly love song.

Daytona 500 – Yes, I know Bob James’ “Nautilus” has been the source material for many a hip-hop instrumental. So, Rza might not get originality points for flippin’ it for the backdrop for Ironman’s second single, but it still sounds incredible hearing Rae, Ghost and Cappadonna dismantle the legendary break beat (especially Raekwon; dude takes his faster blade to another speed on this one). Side note: None of the parties involved were in the music video for this song, but fittingly, it only used clips from the old school Japanese cartoon, Speed Racer, which was both original and dope.

Motherless Child – This was originally released on the Sunset Park Soundtrack about six months prior to Ironman’s release. Rza provides ominous bluesy chords, choppy drums and a vocal snippet with Black church shrieks to back Ghost’s congested and confusing street storyline. I was never crazy about this one. Rza’s instrumental is cool, but Raekwon sounds like he was laying down reference vocals and Ghostface sounds awkward and uncomfortable rhyming over the beat.

Black Jesus – Right after Popa Wu (rip) sets this one off with an interesting lesson/lecture, Rza brings in slight drums and what sounds like a loop of some ancient warrior chant. U-God joins Ghost and Rae and gets off another quality verse alongside his comrades. And the church said: amen.

After The Smoke Is Clear – The Delfonics (whose prime years were in the late sixties/early seventies) stop by to add some soulful harmony to Rza’s heavy drums and thunderous bass line, as our host, Rae and Rza get off another round of verbal darts. This definitely sounds like filler, but it’s still decent.

All That I Got Is You – This was the lead single from Ironman. Rza, once again, starts this one off with a Sonny Carson snippet, then sets the somber mood with weeping soulful sonics for our host to get vulnerable, painting a vivid picture of his impoverished childhood: “Fifteen of us in a three bedroom apartment, roaches everywhere, cousins and aunts was there, four in the bed, two at the foot, two at the head, I didn’t like to sleep with Jon-Jon, he peed the bed, seven o’clock, pluckin’ roaches out the cereal box, some shared the same spoon, watchin’ Saturday cartoons, sugar water was are thing, every meal was no frill, in the summer, free lunch held us down like steel.” The Queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J. Blige provides an emotional refrain and a verse from the perspective of Ghost’s mom, which is enough to tug at your heart’s strings and move you to tears. Papa Wu wraps things up with an optimistic bow, reminding Ghost that his rough childhood made him into the man he is today and “If you forget where you come from, you’re never gonna make it to where you’re going.” This is a powerful record, and Rza didn’t even have to add drums to it.

The Soul Controller – After hearing the Force MD’s croon a portion of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Ghost’s opening verse where he talks about escaping the projects and a life of drug dealing, I thought this song was going to be about life, death, purpose and a higher power; and it might be, but Ghost’s last two verses get extremely abstract and spacy, leaving me lost like the SS Minnow he references at the end of his final verse (shoutout to Gilligan’s Island). Ghost’s rhymes may be a bit bewildering, but Rza’s beautiful snake charming music will keep you in a trance. Side note: This track was removed from all Ironman pressing after 2001 due to sample clearance issues. So, if you’re listening to the album on your favorite DSP, it won’t be there. Another reason I like owning physical copies of my music.

Marvel Ironman closes with a Ghost and Rza duet that finds the duo discussing the marvelous virtues of the “power u” from two different perspectives. Ghost spends his verse describing Wildflower, who’s so bad she would make Sunshine from Boomerang blush (according to Ghost, her vagina performs magic, stays soaking’ wet and she has a body so bangin’ it growls…um, where can I meet her?). Rza goes beyond the surface of bangin’ bodies and lust and speaks scientifically about the womb, pregnancy and birth, which is sobering enough to make Wildflower’s box dry up and her prey go limp. The vibrating blunted backdrop is almost hypnotic and the screaming/singing female voice laced throughout was a nice added touch.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was and will always be a classic and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of its era. Rae and Ghostface’s chemistry on the album is undeniable, as the duo would paint Rza’s raw palette of beats with their colorful slang and a vivid stream of consciousness rhyme style, making for a thoroughly entertaining album that is worthy of the praise it garners. But what has troubled me over the years is why its unofficial companion piece, Ironman, doesn’t get the respect that it deserves.

Ironman pretty much picks up where Cuban Linx leaves off with Rae and Ghost taking the listener on another Rza backed musical excursion, but this time around, Cappadonna tags along, playing the welcomed third wheel. The year in between the release of Cuban Linx and Ironman did all parties involved well: Rza’s production sounds more layered with a rich soulful feel, Rae’s Shaolin slang sounds sharper than ever, and the dark horse, Cappadonna, gives an impressive breakout performance, even stealing the show on a few of the album’s tracks. Ghostface graciously shares the stage with several different parties on Ironman, but it doesn’t dim his light. Whether he’s throwing battle charged verbal darts or showing vulnerability while expressing his emotions (see “Wildflower” and “All That I Got Is You”), Ghost’s charisma shines bright as he laces Ironman with his lively language delivered in his slightly animated, always energized flow.

I’ll listen to the argument that Ironman slows down a bit towards the end, but the first three quarters of the album is so impressive, it should be given a pass to come back to earth for a few tracks (and don’t forget, Cuban Linx starts off slow before it finally builds steam). This may be an unpopular opinion, but pound for pound, Ironman is a better album than Cuban Linx and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath and included in the discussion of greatest hip-hop albums from the nineties. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

-Deedub

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Originoo Gunn Clappaz – Da Storm (October 29, 1996)

In October of 1993, Black Moon seemingly came out of nowhere, releasing their debut album, aptly titled, Enta Da Stage. It took some time for the album to build momentum, but soon the combination of Buckshot’s versatile and energetic rhyming style paired with Da Beatminerz soulfully murky boom bap production would begin to resonate with the streets and eventually be hailed an underground classic. Enta Da Stage would not only lay a solid foundation for Black Moon but would also be the cornerstone for their Boot Camp Clik. In 1995, Smif-N-Wessun would release their phenomenal debut album, Dah Shinin’, followed by Heltah Skeltah’s solid debut, Nocturnal in June of ‘96. Next up to bat would be the Originoo Gunn Clappaz aka O.G.C. with their debut album, Da Storm.

Representing Brooklyn like the rest of their crew, O.G.C. was a trio made up of Starang Wondah, Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog. Their introduction to the world would come on Dah Shinin’, appearing on two of the album’s tracks: “Sound Bwoy Bureill” and the BBC posse joint, “Cession At Da Doghillee.” Heltah Skeltah would also give the trio some shine, inviting them to appear on the lead single from Nocturnal, “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka.” Da Beatminerz would handle the majority of the production on Da Storm, which would produce two singles, climb to number 47 on the Billboard Top 200 and receive favorable reviews from the critics.

I didn’t buy Da Storm back in ‘96, but several years ago I found a used CD copy at a record store for three dollars (which is an absolute steal compared to the current price its listed for on eBay and Amazon). It’s been collecting dust since I bought it, but I’m finally ready to dust it off and continue my journey through the BBC catalogue. So, grab your umbrella and take a stroll with me through Da Storm.

Intro – Da Storm begins with this short skit that finds our hosts smokin’ weed and talkin’ trash while playing NBA Jams. Interesting way to prepare for a storm, but whatever.

Calm Before Da Storm – After a brief snippet of an English accented man waxing poetic about storms, all three legs of the Gunn Clappaz get off bars, as they yawn, stretch and warm up their mics for the evening. Speaking of yawning, Shaleek’s backdrop sounds sleepy, almost like he took the song title a bit too serious.

No Fear – This was the lead single from Da Storm and the only song on the album that I was familiar with before this write-up. Mr. Walt hooks up a subdued mid-tempo bop punctuated by a dense bass line that comes with a stench of suspicion. The trio sound much more engaged than they did on the previous track and shine in the mist of impending storm clouds that the infectious instrumental brings.

Boom…Boom…Prick – This short skit features a faux label exec telling a story about a dispute with an artist over a royalty check that ends on some Big Red shit. Shoutout to Robert Townsend.

Gunn Clapp – This instrumental may be the corniest in Mr. Walt’s production catalog and is way too soft to support the O.G.C.’s threats of gun violence. And what was the purpose of all the record label skits in between the verses?

Emergency Broadcast System – The former host of BET’s Rap City, Big Tigger, drops by for this interlude that sets up the next song…

Hurricane Starang – Starang Wondah gets the lone solo joint on Da Storm, and it’s backed by a bleak but effective Mr. Walt backdrop. Starang displays why he’s Gunn Clappa number one, as he gets off competent bars over the course of the song’s three verses. Rock makes a subtle appearance on this one, dropping a few adlibs, but graciously, he doesn’t spit bars and steal the show from his Fab Fav bredrin. I like this record, but it doesn’t hit with anywhere near the magnitude of a hurricane.

Danjer – Other than a few adlibs towards the end of the song, Starang Wondah sits this one out and lets his partners in crime thug it out over a mellow instrumental. The more I listen to the album, the more I become a fan of Louieville Sluggah’s medieval theatrical rhyming pattern. He sounds like a hood Shakespeare. This was a decent way to follow-up “Hurricane Starang.”

Elements Of Da Storm – Drawn out overly dramatic soliloquy to set up the next track…

Da Storm – Based on the ominous music in the previous interlude, I was expecting to get smacked in the head with some dark and hard boom-bap. But instead, DJ Evil Dee drops an instrumental so dry they could have titled the song “Sahara Desert.” And our indigenous firearms applauding hosts following Evil Dee’s lead, spewing verbal eczema.

Wild Cowboys In Bucktown – As soon as I saw the tracklist on the back of the jewel case, I predicted this would be a Sadat X collab record. Sadat continues his extensive cameo streak, as he and his sidekick, Sean Black show up and join forces with O.G.C. for this decent but easily forgettable cipher session.

God Don’t Like Ugly – God don’t like ugly and I don’t like this song. From the Buckshot/Lord Jamar concocted instrumental to the mundane rhymes, this was boring as shit.

X-unknown – Nothing to see here, folks.

Elite Fleet – O.G.C. is joined by the Representativz (who I first heard on Heltah Skeltah’s “The Square (Triple R)” on the Nocturnal album), MS and Bad Vybez (which might be the most pessimistic alias in the history of hip-hop) for this Magnum Force cipher session, which ironically is missing the two foundational pieces of the Force, Ruck and Rock. Starang Wondah easily outshines his crew on this one, and Supreme’s calmingly somber backdrop was cool, but way too peaceful to back a posse cut.

Flappin’ – I’m a huge fan of Madlib’s production work, so it was a pleasant surprise to see his name in the liner notes as a co-producer for this track (with E-Swift getting the other credit). The duo cook up a darkly serene instrumental that matches the feel of the rest of Da Storm’s sound, as O.G.C. rehashes the same topics they’ve already covered in great detail during the rest of the album.

Based on the album title, the album cover artwork and the fact Da Beatminerz were responsible for most of the production, I was expecting Da Storm to be chock-full of bleak hardcore street rhymes backed by dark gutter instrumentals. You know what they say about books and their covers. The same rule applies for albums. On Da Storm, Starang Wondah is the obvious standout on the mic with Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog being his serviceable sidekicks. But when all the other groups in your crew (Buckshot, Smif-N-Wessun, Heltah Skeltah) can do what you do better, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. The bigger issue with Da Storm is the production. The album is burdened by bland and boring beats and O.G.C. aren’t talented enough emcees to overcome the monotony or breathe life into the mediocre music that supports their bars.

Ultimately, O.G.C. fails to bring the storm as advertised in the title and the album gets stuck in the calm. No thunder, lightning, strong winds or torrential downpour. Just grey skies, rain clouds and drizzle. Which makes for great sleeping conditions, not so much for an entertaining hip-hop album.

-Deedub

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Da Brat – Anuthatantrum (October 29, 1996)

The last time we heard from Da Brat was earlier in ‘96 with a few token appearances on MC Lyte’s first SoSo Def release, Bad As I Wanna Be. Prior to that she was making history as the first solo female rapper to earn a platinum plaque with her 1994 debut album, Funkdafied, thanks largely to the Midas touch of Jermaine Dupri. 1996 would find the Chicago/Atlanta connection returning with Da Brat’s sophomore effort, Anuthatantrum.

Jermaine Dupri would be responsible for the sonics of Tantrum (with Carl So-Lowe receiving co-credits on about half of the album), which would produce two gold selling singles and the album itself would earn Da Brat a gold plaque, keeping her hot streak alive. Along with the commercial success, Tantrum received mostly favorable reviews from the critics.

Like Funkdafied, I remember the singles from Tantrum, but I never got around to thoroughly checking out the album until now…nearly three decades after its release. But now is better than never, right?

Anuthatantrum – Da Brat greets the listener with the sound of whistling wind, which I’m not sure what purpose it serves (maybe a subliminal to remind folks she’s from the windy city?). Ominous chords creep in, along with slight drums, and Da Brat gets off an overly wordy refrain and a quick but decent verse to begin the evening.

My Beliefs – JD maintains the tense mood from the previous track with more doomy instrumentation that Da Brat uses to share her beliefs, mainly that on the microphone she’s the “baddest around.” My belief is that JD provided the instrumental and let Da Brat come up with the song’s concept and write this one (and the previous song) all by herself, with decent results.

Sittin’ On Top Of The World – This was the lead single off Tantrum. JD borrows a slice of Rick James’ classic and often sampled, “Mary Jane,” flipping it into a cool head nodder, as Da Brat proceeds to talk her shit and sounds convincing doing so. This one has JD’s fingerprints all over it and has aged very well.

Let’s All Get High – Da Brat is joined by Krayzie Bone on this weed celebration joint (no pun intended) that she not only uses to get high on, but also verbally assault emcees. JD backs up the duo’s rhymes with a polished interpolation of Zapp’s “Be Alright” to create the cute backdrop that was clearly designed for commercial consumption. I’m shocked they didn’t release this as a single.

West Side Interlude – Da Brat extends the celebration from the previous track for another twelve seconds or so on this short interlude.

Just A Little Bit More – JD loops up a smooth Dionne Warwick sample to form this chilled melodic instrumental that Da Brat bombards with more boastful bars. Trey Lorenz (remember him?) stops by to sprinkle his vocals on the hook, giving the track a strong R&B feel, which I didn’t necessarily need, but it probably works better than a superficial overly wordy hook from Da Brat would have. And after several listens, I still don’t know what “a little bit more” Da Brat is in search of.

Keepin’ It Live – JD jumps from behind the boards to the mic as he and Da Brat try to recapture the magic they conjured up on “Funkdafied.” They both sound decent on the mic (it sounds like Jay-Z may have written, or at least helped pen this one; listen to Da Brat bend words like “occasion” and “liaison” during her opening verse, and later, JD’s “jig” reference, and tell me it doesn’t smell like Jigga’s pen…oh yeah, I forgot, he doesn’t write rhymes…Jigga’s mouth? Would that make him a ghost sayer?), but the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” flip for the backdrop was semi-cheesy.

Ghetto Love – This was the second single released from Tantrum. JD interpolates DeBarge’s “All This Love” to create the dark mood that T-Boz decorates by rehashing some of El’s lines from the same record with her signature raspy deadpan vocal tone. All this (no pun intended) is to set the stage for Da Brat to rap about her incarcerated boyfriend that she promises to wait for until he’s freed from the belly of the beast. Even in ‘96, years before the Da Brat came out the closet, l wasn’t buying this story of her having a love affair with a man.

Lyrical Molestation – JD builds this uncharacteristically grimy canvas around an ill loop with mystical vibes and a nasty guitar lick that Da Brat jumps all over and probably sounds the best she’s sounded all night to this point. The cherry on top of this musical treat is the presence of George Clinton, who discretely (they do give “G. Clinton” a credit in the liner notes, but unlike the rest of the guests on Tantrum, there’s no “featuring” credit for the Godfather of P-Funk, which I found odd…maybe it was a label/contractual thing.) blesses the brilliant instrumental with a dope opening and closing spoken word poem/rap, damn near stealing the show from his hostess. This is easily the best song on the album and worth the four dollars I paid for admission.

Live It Up – JD jacks Akinyele’s “Put It In Your Mouth” beat with Da Brat fully acknowledging the robbery during the song’s intro, before getting borderline disrespectful and demanding (Ak? The listener?) “Put this shit in your muthafuckin’ mouth.” Da Brat sounds decent enough, but if you’re going to rap over a jacked beat, you should probably make the bars sound spectacular.

Make It Happen – The final song of the night finds JD using the same David Snell “Crab Apple Jam” loop that Premo used for the “Nyte Time” remix for Showbiz & A.G.’s “Next Level.” JD puts juiced up drums behind it, along with a little Zapp talkbox action and an uncredited male vocalist crooning on the hook, as Da Brat shares her credentials and talks that shit once last time. This was a nice way to wrap up the album.

On “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” Da Brat addresses the critics that said she sounded like Tha Dogg Pound on the Funkdafied album (she actually sounded like Snoop, but you get her drift), and even the mention of that comparison is a clue that it must have bothered the Chicago emcee. On Anuthatantrum, Da Brat was clearly looking to separate herself from that stigma.

Tantrum feels like there are two different objectives at work. Half of the album sounds like Jermaine Dupri was looking to build on the commercial success of Funkdafied, constructing the instrumentals around polished obvious samples to back the Da Brat’s semi-hardcore rhymes with a touch of R&B flavor on the hooks, making the music easily digestible for mass consumption. The other half sounds like JD loosened the reins, giving Da Brat the freedom to cook her own concepts, write her own rhymes and find her true voice over more traditional hip-hop beats, and the “meet in the middle” approach works fairly well. Technically, Da Brat is a quality emcee with a dope rap voice and swagger in her flow that falls somewhere in between smooth and brash. Lyrically, she gets busy on a few of the album’s tracks, but on a large chunk of Tantrum, Da Brat’s rhymes ring hollow and start to feel like Charlie Brown’s teacher’s on the mic. But when Da Brat’s bars start to lose your attention, JD does a solid job of keeping you tuned in with his production, only missing a few times during the eleven-track count.

Anuthatantrum doesn’t have any real meat on its bones but is still a moderately entertaining listen. But in a year stacked with so many great albums, Da Brat needed to throw a bigger fit to make the album more memorable.

-Deedub

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House Of Pain – Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again (October 22, 1996)

I hope you’re all enjoying your holiday season! This will be my final post for 2022, which is crazy to think we’re about to step into 2023. Time is truly, illmatic. Happy New Year!

After making his introduction to the world as the black suit sporting, white sneaker wearing, Syndicate Posse rollin’ emcee, Everlast would do some soul searching after his solo debut album (Forever Everlasting) flopped, both critically and commercially. He would re-emerge in 1992 with DJ Lethal, his sidekick, Danny Boy, and his Larry Bird jersey, as the three would form the proud Irish hip-hop group, House Of Pain. Thanks largely (you could argue, entirely) to their smash hit debut single, “Jump Around,” HOP’s self-titled debut album would earn the trio a platinum plaque. They would follow-up their debut album in 1994 with, Same As It Ever Was, and without a single even remotely as big as “Jump Around,” the album would still reach gold status. HOP would return in ’96 with their third release, the lengthy titled, Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again.

The album title (which is mistakenly written repeatedly across the album cover as “Truth Crushed To Earth Will Rise Again”) was taken from a line from a poem from the Massachusetts born Romantic era poet and journalist, William Cullen Bryant, titled, “The Battle-Field.” On their first two go rounds, DJ Lethal and the architect of Cypress Hill’s blunted sound, DJ Muggs, would be responsible for most of the production. But after HOP and Cypress Hill’s fallout, Muggs would have nothing to do with Truth, leaving Everlast and Lethal to pick up the production pieces. Truth would also find HOP adding a little pigmentation to the crew, as there’s a picture of two brothers in the liners notes with a caption that reads: “Featuring the original scheme team, DIVINE STYLER and COCKNI O’DIRE,” who were also once a part of Ice-T’s Syndicate Posse.

I’m not sure if it was Muggs’ absence, the presence of The Original Scheme Team, the fans growing tired of Everlast and ‘em’s Irish shenanigans or a combination of all of the above, but Truth would be HOP’s first album to not receive RIAA certification. Truth would ultimately, crush House Of Pain to the earth and collectively, they would never rise again.

I’ve had Truth in the collection for at least five years now and will for the first time be giving it some spin time. So, without further ado…

The Have Nots – House Of Pain wastes no time with a frivolous intro and gets right to the shits. The song begins with Everlast chanting, “Benevolence…mercy…discipline,” before going into the refrain over airy, cold and callous instrumentation that I imagine is what you’d hear the day after the apocalypse if you were the lone survivor of the battle of Armageddon. Everlast and Danny Boy share the mic and both sound like they have a lot to unpack. Danny discusses his dependence on God to overcome his suicidal thoughts, and when E’s not taking shots at emcees or trying to bag your girl, he’s addressing the spiritual warfare going on internally: “I’m on my knees, my face on the rug, one more prostration, for my salvation, my Jinn’s buckin’ up, it’s got me fuckin’ up, be callin’ my flesh but my soul won’t mesh.” If this opening track is any indication of how the rest of the album will sound, then I’m all in.

Fed Up – This was the lead single from Truth and a song I’ve never heard before this write-up. HOP keeps the airy vibes coming with this howling, dark and eerie mid-tempo backdrop. Everlast soulfully moaning “Lord, have mercy on my soul” and his opening bars (“I’ve got demons, runnin’ through my sleep, they like to creep, when my thoughts get deep, schemin’, tryna find a place to fit in, and manifest itself in the form of a sin”) would lead you to believe he’s going to build on the spiritual warfare he briefly touched on during the opening track, but he quickly deviates from the subject and turns his focus towards his frustration with wack and fabricated emcees, while Cockni O’Dire (an obvious candidate for worst alias of the year) sprinkles his reggae chanting in between the verses. Everlast’s growl (which is notably more intense than it was on the last two albums) sounds very similar to Nine’s gravelly delivery, which made me think that it would have been nice to hear him jump on this track with E. Nevertheless, it’s still a dope record without the presence of one of my favorite underappreciated emcees.

What’s That Smell – Divine Styler makes his first appearance of the evening, as he stops by to jump on this gutter track with Everlast. This time around I wasn’t fooled by E’s pleas for the “Lord to have mercy” at the beginning of the song, since his buddy, Mr. Styler, quickly interrupts them by dedicating this record to all the “dirty bitches out there,” before inviting them all to suck his nuts, and he’s not offering them a can of cashews. E starts his verse off with a bunch of randomness (i.e., wanting to be Johnny Mathis, hittin’ Hugh Hefner with his Playboy Bunnies, and his affinity for reading the Doonesbury comic) before he gets to the subject at hand: sexing some PYT. Then again, after listening to D. Styler’s abstract scientifical verse (which has nothing to do with sex) and the nonsensical hook, I’m not sure what the subject at hand truly is. But I did enjoy the grimy loop and the ill drums that back the duo’s incomplete idea.

Heart Full Of Sorrow – Now here’s an unlikely pairing. The white boy who dropped the n-word and got away with it unscathed (see “Keep It Comin'” off SAIEW) joins forces with the once Black militant five percenter, Sadat X, who was on quite the cameo tear around this time. The Ebony and Ivory duo sound like veteran emcees giving industry advice to rookies based on their own experiences with the politics and bullshit that come with the rap game. The concept is cool, but the instrumental was borderline boring and there is absolutely no reason that Divine Styler needed to chime in with a token verse at the end of this record.

Earthquake – Everlast and Divine Styler team up once again, as they take turns trying to out rhyme emcees, shoot up rival crews and brag about being the “Apple of your Earth’s eye” over a fervently mystical funky mid-tempo bop. Everlast (whose boast that no one in his crew is “living off HUD” and his threat to “put a whole in your back the size of a plum” were both amusing) easily out rhymes his partner, whose abstract bars get lost in his choppy flow. This is another record that would have sounded amazing with Everlast and Nine Double M replacing D. Styler.

Shut The Door – This is a fly lust song. Everlast, D. Styler and Cockni O’Dire take turns expressing their craving for some good old fashion sexual healing. I love that the fellas don’t beat around the bush (no pun intended) or deceitfully twist their physical desires for love, but like the hook, they’re direct and honest with their intentions: “If I get mine, you’ll get yours, and we can take it to the wild side behind closed doors, rip off your stockings and drop your draws, we can take it to the wild side behind closed doors.” But the true star of this record is the brilliant instrumental. The rough and heavy drums that perfectly clash with the buttery guitar licks sounds like something A Tribe Called Quest would have crafted. Speaking of ATCQ, a remix with Q-Tip and Phife replacing Styler and Cockni would have been fire (it’s a stretch, but Tribe Degrees of Separation: check).

Pass The Jinn – For those who may not know, a Jinn is a spirit that Muslims believe can possess the human body and make it perform evil deeds. Over a dark and intense instrumental, Everlast is at war with his Jinn in search of peace, and the battle produces some of the most insightful and vulnerable bars I’ve ever heard Everlast spit: “From the phat bag of blade I must consume, cause my soul’s on the verge of impending doom… I bow my head to the East, five times a day, I put my face in the dirt every time I pray, to disrupt the Jinn in me, ‘cause the sin in me’s, tryna take over, and make my soul crossover…the black 850 representin’ my status, plus, I got the baddest, house on the hill, my bank account’s full, but my soul’s empty still.” Styler and Cockni accompany E on the track, but completely disregard the subject at hand, choosing to spit random bars instead. This record would have worked so much better as a Everlast solo mission.

No Doubt – Everlast and DJ Lethal hook up a nice little funk backdrop built around a cool and catchy filtered wah wah loop, as E talks a little shit, drops a few jewels, and ultimately tries to get the party started. Our hosts’ intentions are clear with this record, and even though it probably didn’t work out how they intended it to, it still makes for a hypnotic groove.

Choose Your Poison – Danny Boy re-emerges from his extended bathroom break (we haven’t heard from him since the opening song) to jump on the track with his partner in rhyme. Everything about this record sounds like a leftover from the House Of Pain sessions. I wasn’t crazy about this one.

X-Files – Everlast spits more freestyle bars over a backdrop that has evil serpent vibes and sounds a little Rza-esque. Decent filler.

Fed Up (Remix) – HOP pays homage to Gang Starr’s “Just To Get A Rep” by giving Premo’s beat an airy makeover. And it’s only right that Everlast invites Guru (rip) to jump on the mic, turning this into a duet (Well, technically, it’s a three-man affair, since Cockni adds his unwarranted two sense at the end of the record). Guru sounds uncharacteristically hyped-up, and both emcees sound loose and fresh as they exchange sharp bars and cleverly pay respect to each other’s previous work without sounding like dick riders.

Killa Rhyme Klik – Everlast invites D. Styler and Mr. O’Dire to join him one last time for the evening, as they collectively form the Killa Rhyme Klik. The only problem is no one brought killer rhymes to the party. The rugged backdrop was nice, though, especially when the melodic zen break comes in during the hook.

While I’m Here – Similar to what he did on the closing track from SAIEW (see “Still Got A Lotta Love”), Everlast raps his shoutouts over a simple drumbeat, a rubbery bass line and a clip from Audio Two’s “Top Billin’.” And that’s a wrap.

Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again is more proof that Everlast is a talented emcee, and he really doesn’t need to lean on the feeble support of Divine Styler, Cockni O’Dire or Danny Boy. And while his mediocre band of help brings very little to Truth’s table, Everlast sounds better than he did on the first two albums, as his voice is progressively raspier and when he’s not threatening to fuck your girl or out rap and beat up emcees, he’s wrestling with God and tussling with demons, which bares fruit to some of the most insightful and intriguing bars of his career (at least to this point, I’m not super familiar with his Whitey Ford output yet). On the production side, Everlast and Lethal string together a quality batch of beats that hit more often than they miss and makes Muggs absence from the album null and void, while also giving the group a refreshingly different sound from the blunted brand of production that Muggs is known for.

Truth has its issues (mainly Divine Styler and Cockni O’Dire), but it’s the strongest album in the House Of Pain trilogy, and a quality swan song from hip-hop’s favorite Irish trio. The Beastie Boys weren’t Irish, right?

-Deedub

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Above The Law – Time Will Reveal (October 22, 1996)

Over time, Above The Law has become one of my favorite underrated and underappreciated hip-hop groups of all time. I was first introduced to the Pomona, California collective on their 1993 sophomore effort, Black Mafia Life, before going back and checking out their 1990 full-length debut album, Livin’ Like Hustlers. Black Mafia Life was dope in its own right but Livin’ Like Hustlers was absolutely brilliant. I’m still not sure why I never checked for or bought ATL’s third release, Uncle Sam’s Curse, when it came out in ‘94, but last week I found a reissued CD copy and will be doing a deep dive on it just as soon as I wrap up my 1996 reviews. But today, we’ll be discussing ATL’s fourth release, Time Will Reveal.

After releasing their first four projects on Eazy-E’s Ruthless imprint (before you go and correct me in the comments, I’m including their 1991 EP, Vocally Pimpin’ in that count), ATL would begin their short-lived relationship with Tommy Boy Records (TWR and their next album, Legends, would be released on Tommy Boy before ATL would move on to their next label home). ATL would handle all of the production on TWR and would invite a few guests to jump on a few of the album’s tracks. Compared to some of their previous projects, TWR did mediocre sells numbers, peaking at 16 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts and 80 on the Billboard Top 200.

TWR is another album I bought used a few years back and (broken record alert) have never listened to until now. Hopefully, the generic album cover photo isn’t an early indication of ATL’s fall off.

Continue to rest easy, KMG.

IntroTWR begins with some dude named Gee on an angry rant about “punk ass bitch made muthafuckas” and Judgement Day, while bluesy instrumentation plays in the background, accompanied by lamenting notes from Dori’nda “Do/Re” Roberts.

Encore – The first actual song of the evening finds KMG and Cold 187 discussing their conversion from bonafide street hustlers to legitimate rappers, sharing a bit of their history and resumé along the way. Ms. Roberts from the “Intro” blesses the hook with her strong (though poorly enunciated) vocals, and combined with the pristine synth groove, gives the track a hood elegance that I enjoyed.

Evil That Men Do – Over a devious keyboard crafted instrumental, ATL lets us know that just because they’re veteran rappers, doesn’t mean they’ve completely abandoned their street ties. KMG and 187 take turns calling out the evil actions of others and admit to their own wicked deeds (Speaking of wicked, was KMG taking a shot at Ice Cube with his “wicked” bar (“Lookin’ for this other muthafucka, me and my gang, he wanna get wicked, he wanna take it there”)? I know ATL had beef with Dr. Dre for allegedly stealing their production sound, but I wasn’t aware of any beef they had with Cube. Hit me in the comments if you have the scoop). The fellas add some haunting vocals on the hook to reinforce the devilish deeds discussed in their bars. This was dope.

Table Dance (Skit) – This skit takes place at a strip joint named Draws Plus, which sounds more like the Sam’s Club of underwear than a name for a gentlemen’s club. Regardless, it adds nothing to the album and only exist to set up the next song…

Gorillapimpin’ – One of Above The Law’s street hustles was pimpin’, and they use this one to remind the listener that the pimp trait still runs strong through their veins. KMG and 187 are joined by E-Nuff and Kokane to boast about their gorilla pimp game (Kokane’s verse gets a little R-Kelly-esque when he talks about having sex with a seventeen-year-old groupie). Like most misogynistic songs, this one hasn’t aged well, but the sing songy hook is very catchy.

1996 – Over a dark menacing backdrop, 187 and KMG continue to straddle the line between street hustlin’ and rapping. I’m still trying to figure out who KMG’s line about the “skinny buster nigga might steal our fuckin’ sound” was aimed at. Initially, I thought it was directed at Dr. Dre for what I mentioned on “Evil That Men Do,” but Dre was far from skinny in ‘96. So, then I started leaning toward DJ Quik, since KMG’s very next line is “get draw down quick, like quick draw” and Quik was definitely a bean pole around that time. Feel free to hit me in the comments if you have more info…but I digress. This record is hard.

Killaz In The Park – This one begins with a skit that has law enforcement discovering a dead body. Then after they secure the crime scene a dreary semi-bluesy instrumental is brought in, and our hosts and MC Ren take turns exposing the listener to the dark underworld of the park, where Cold 187 brags about selling dope by the swings. Wtf? I could have done without this one.

100 Spokes – This was the lead single from TWR. Over a funky mid-tempo synth groove, laced, once again, with the soulful vocals of Ms. Roberts on the hook, 187 and KMG rap praises to the fancy tire rims they drive around Southern California with, discussing the benefits (attention from women) and the problems (potential jackers) that come with having them: (KMG) “When I bought my 100 Spokes, I bought a four-five, just for a nigga like the KM to stay alive, G to the muthafuckin’ three, but we call it the trey, built like a rock, but it’s made by Chevrolet…there’s something about them 100 Spokes when they be like dipped, whippin’ around delight women, freakin’ all the freaky bitches when they like spinnin’.” This is an intriguingly entertaining record, but I’ll always be baffled by the price we’re willing to pay to floss, and it has absolutely nothing to do with money.

Clinic 2000 – This one opens with silky instrumentation and Kokane oddly proclaiming, “I like R. Kelly, he cool,” which immediately made me think about his questionable verse on “Gorillapimpin’,” which left me sliding Mr. Kane a virtual side eye, while wondering if he and Mr. Kelly are of kindred spirits, if you know what I mean. KMG, Enuff and Daddy Cool (who sounds a little like W.C.) share the mic like the ladies they objectify in their rhymes, while Kokane and 187 add an animated hook to complete this pimp session.

My World – Our gracious hosts invite us all into a glimpse of their world, which includes flossin’, smokin’, flows, hoes and money. Pretty much everything they’ve already discussed in great detail on TWR to this point. Despite ATL’s regurgitated content, I enjoyed the smooth sophisticated funk groove (especially the piano solo at the end) and the soothing vocals of Dawn Monique on the hook.

Endonesia – If you didn’t figure it out based on the song title, this one is dedicated to ATL’s weed strand of choice. The fellas invite their homegirl, Pee Gee, to chime in on this ode to Endo, while Mike Holmes flexes his husky vocals, crooning the catchy hook. Not an original song idea or a great record, but passable.

Shout 2 The True – The fellas use this slippery smooth backdrop to reminisce about their hustlin’ days and pledge their allegiance to the streets. That’s all I got.

Playaz & Gangstas – The instrumental is pretty smooth, but everything else about it sounds just as generic as the song title reads.

City Of Angels (Remix) – The original version of this song was released on the platinum selling soundtrack for The Crow: City Of Angels in April of ‘96. ATL remixes the Tony G/Julio G originally produced track, replacing the duo’s jazzy G-Funk backdrop with a clean slow-rolling melancholic groove that 187, KMG and Frost (formerly known as Kid Frost, who you may remember for his “La Raza” record) use to highlight Los Angeles’ dark side, while throwing in a few token crow references along the way. The original mix wasn’t bad, but I enjoyed this remix a little more.

Apocalypse Now – ATL wraps TWR up with polished instrumentation that comes with wah-wah talk box vibes and a “serious bidness” aura. KMG (who cleverly starts his verse off with the famous opening words from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) and 187 remind the listener of their accomplishments and waive the ATL banner high one last time before gettin’ the fuck out of Dodge. It ain’t the end of the world, but it was a nice way to end the album on a high note.

As I mentioned in the opening of this write-up, Above The Law will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite underdog/outcast hip-hop groups. KMG’s deadpan gravelly voice, perfectly contrasting with Cold 187’s colorful flow and delivery was a pleasure to experience on their first two albums. Time Will Reveal finds the duo back to their usual antics, spitting gangsta raps, street hustler hymns and pimp propaganda. But unlike their first couple of go rounds, the bars ring a little hollow and feel stagnant, as if the underappreciation for their contribution to the game through the years finally started to affect their output. ATL captures glimpses of their former microphone magic on a few of the album’s songs, and their production, which I can best describe as a contemporary G-Funk sound, is not spectacular but still solid. TWR isn’t a terrible album, it just lacks direction and purpose.

Even with TWR being a little lackluster, I’m still looking forward to finally delving into their third release, Uncle Sam’s Curse. Hopefully, it won’t disappoint. I guess, time will reveal.

-Deedub

Following me on Instagram@ Damontimeisillmatic

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M.O.P. – Firing Squad (October 22, 1996)

Hailing from Brownsville, Brooklyn, M.O.P. is the hip-hop duo made up of Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze. They will probably always be remembered for their lively adrenaline fueled 2000 hit single, “Ante Up,” that I’m sure has been the muse for several beat downs and bullet wounds at countless parties through the years. But long before “Ante Up,” the Mash Out Posse was mashin’ out rappers and rivals on records. They released their debut single, “How About Some Hardcore,” in 1993, setting up their debut album, To The Death, released on Select Records in 1994. I think it’s safe to say To The Death wasn’t wildly successful, but it did establish a solid fanbase for the energetic duo. They would eventually leave Select, signing with Relativity Records and releasing their sophomore effort, Firing Squad in 1996.

On To The Death, M.O.P. would rely on their unsung Brownsville bredrin, DR Period to sculpt the album’s sound (the architect of the “Ante Up” instrumental was also credited with producing all but one of the tracks on To The Death). DR Period would be completely absence from Firing Squad, as DJ Premier would be responsible for about a third of the album’s tracks, with Jaz-O, Laze E Laze and M.O.P. producing the bulk of the rest. Firing Squad didn’t make a lot of noise on the charts or move a ton of units, but it did receive mostly positive reviews.

This write up marks my first time listening to Firing Squad, but I’m pretty sure I know what I’m about to experience.

Intro – Though he’s not credited for it in the liner notes, the sharp soundbites, the crisp cuts on the one and twos, and the dope xylophone loop on this Intro are clearly brought to you by the mind and hands of DJ Premier.

Firing Squad (Skit) – Over laxed drums and a drowsy bass line, some poor sap is found guilty of unspecified crimes against the home team (aka M.O.P.) and sentenced to death by firing squad; meaning they’re going to surround said sap and literally shoot the shit out of him. The last fifteen seconds of this skit find the guilty party getting lit up like a Christmas tree. Season’s Greetings!

Firing Squad – Billy and Fame come out the gates lively with guns blazing and ready for war, as Fame reminds all would be competitors that “we can bust raps or bust caps,” then later threatens to “turn a rap cipher into a muthafuckin’ homicide.” Their guest, Teflon, joins in on the bustin’ and does a decent job matching the high energy of his gracious hosts. Teflon’s mention of Saratoga Ave immediately made me think of another Brownsville bomber, Smoothe Da Hustler, and how dope it would have been to hear him get off a verse next to Billy and Fame. But no cigar. Premo, who has an uncanny knack for flippin’ the illest jazz piano loops and turning them into the perfect thugged out concertos, does it again with this one, as all parties involved help get things off to a great start.

New Jack City – Premo builds this dark marvel of a boom bap beat around a pensive xylophone loop that Fame and Billy use to address the then current new school of rappers: (Billy Danze) “Yo, what the fuck is the deal? Here comes a new generation of rap dudes (with fake attitudes!), that refuse to play by the rules, it’s a shame, how they be dissin’ the game, they fantasize, then go to the studio and tell lies… (Firing Squad!) still firing, fuckin’ with old timers with llamas, ready to come out of retirement.” This shit was hard.

Stick To Ya Gunz – Premo provides yet another riveting banger for M.O.P. to brutalize with their thug raps, as they invite the legendary Kool G. Rap to join in on their hardcore shenanigans. I’ve mentioned before that I was never really a fan of the mafioso rapper that G. Rap morphed into during the mid-nineties, but all his murderous gun talk and punchlines actually sound pretty entertaining in context with Billy and Fame’s violent antics.

Anticipation – M.O.P. (with a co-credit going to Laze E Laze) get their first production credit of the night with this one. They build the backdrop around a cool organ loop and spit more overly violent raps, looking to, as Billy Danze so viciously puts it, “kill a whole heap of you muthafuckas.”

Born 2 Kill – Fame and Billy exchange violent gun tales, leaving Jaz-O’s laidback jazzy instrumental completely blood stained.

Brownsville – Premo returns to the boards, this time concocting some unsettling grimy shit with an ill harp loop that he brings in in between the verses. Fame and Danze use Prem’s gully production to describe their Brooklyn neighborhood (Brownsville) as a modern day Wild Wild West: (Lil’ Fame) “Brownsville, the place where crews seem the livest, cops get knocked down, body counts only rising, them streets look – raw to ya, villains look – poor to ya, them niggas will – slaughter ya, for your goose Nautica, you got jewels? Stash ‘em son, ‘cause there’s a thousand niggas broke, and we all got guns.” It doesn’t sound like a great place to raise a family, but it makes for a fairly entertaining record.

Salute – Fame and Danze stomp out and shoot up Premo’s slick swing groove with high-powered hardcore raps.

World Famous – Years before Scarface would rap over a loop of Donny Hathaway’s “Be Real Black For Me,” Jaz-O would turn it into a soulful bop for M.O.P. to celebrate themselves over. I can’t help but wonder how often these dudes’ voices go hoarse.

Downtown Swinga (’96) – I’m pretty sure this was the only track I was familiar with going into this write-up. Premo gets his last production credit of the evening, as he builds this one around an irresistible loop that straddles the line between rugged and smooth. Per usual, Billy and Fame are all fired up ready to buck shots and bust some heads as they rep for their Brownsville hood.

Lifestyles Of A Ghetto Child – Jaz creates a somberly reflective mood with this beautiful backdrop that our hosts use to spew more gun bustin’ street tales.

Revolution – This is a five-and-a-half-minute mid-tempo funk instrumental with a male voice repeatedly claiming, “Revolution is here” and then asking all brothers and sisters if they’re ready for this unidentified change. I could have done without it, but it makes for great freestyle practice. I caught a few zones over it in the last few weeks.

Illside Of Town – This pretty much covers the same territory as “Brownsville.” Sub out Premo’s grimy boom bap, put in Laze E Laze and M.O.P.’s soulful bop to back it.

Nothin’ 2 Lose – Decent filler.

Dedication – This interlude pays respect to the late mothers of both Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze, with some help from a couple of clips from Premo and the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch & Bobbito.

Dead & Gone – This one begins with what sounds like a preacher preaching a eulogy, before the Staples Singers’ “Let’s Do It Again” assisted instrumental comes in and Fame and Billy reflect on their deceased loved ones and contemplate their own mortality: (Lil’ Fame) “Yo, the whole scenery is packed in, people dressed in black and, the whole place is flooded with tears, I’m surrounded by my peers, there I lay, day after day, has been a struggle for the man, but when I’m put six feet under, will my son understand?” The Mash Out boys actually censor their curses on this one (which I’m sure had everything to do with the sample clearance) and invite the R&B quartet, Battle to bring the church choir vibes as they sing the mournful hook. This is a decent record and a nice change of pace from all the hardcore beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em rah-rah we’ve gotten during the rest of the album.

Born 2 Kill (Jazz Mix) – Same as the O.G. mix, just with some ladies adding a “murder” melody and a male voice chanting “homicide” on the hook to give Fame and Billy’s gun tales an extra bloody flavor.

I don’t think anyone would consider Lil’ Fame or Billy Danze to be great lyricists, but on Firing Squad the duo’s chemistry, thug swagger and bully raps that are delivered with enough vigor and energy to justify a Red Bull endorsement deal, make them a force to be reckoned with. Maybe even more impressive than M.O.P.’s hardcore synergy is the production on Firing Squad. DJ Premier leads the charge and sets the tone with his masterful boom bap slaps, and even the songs he’s not responsible for are backed by quality instrumentals. Yes, M.O.P.’s bully raps get redundant by the midway point and at eighteen tracks the album’s a little long in the tooth (you could easily shave four to five songs off Firing Squad and they wouldn’t be missed), but there’s still enough dope material on Firing Squad to make for an enjoyable listen and a solid sophomore album from the Brownsville Bombers.

And I’m sure it took at least six months for M.O.P.’s feet, fists, trigger fingers and vocal cords to fully recover after the album’s recording sessions.

-Deedub

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PMD – Bu$ine$$ Is Bu$ine$$ (October 22, 1996)

After releasing four consecutive critically acclaimed gold selling albums and cementing their hip-hop legacy, In 1993, EPMD decided to go their separate ways do to…we’ll just call it a bunch of fuckery (feel free to click here and get more details on said fuckery). Both Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith would pursue solo careers after the break-up. The Green-eyed bandit would strike first with his 1993 solo debut, No Pressure and Parrish aka PMD, sticking with the EPMD “Business” themed album titles, would release his in ‘94, subliminally titled Shade Business. Shade Business was nothing short of mediocre, plagued by PMD’s erratic beat selection and his less than impressive experimental slo-flow. Needless to say, Shade Business was a commercial failure and RCA would sever ties with P, but he would soon rebound, landing at Relativity/Epic, where he would release his sophomore solo effort, Bu$ine$$ Is Bu$ine$$ in 1996.

For Bu$ine$$ Is Bu$ine$$, PMD would focus strictly on the rhymes and leave the production in the hands of a few of his associates (including DJ Scratch, Charlie Marotta, Solid Scheme and 8-Off aka Agallah). Bu$ine$$ Is Bu$ine$$ would render two charting singles and barely cracked the Billboard Top 200, peaking at 180. Thankfully, P and Erick would patch things up and get back to business (no pun intended) the following year, releasing their fifth group album, aptly titled, Back In Business.

Though my memory keeps telling me the last secular hip-hop album I bought before my hip-hop sabbatical was Biggie’s Life After Death in 1997, the deeper I get into ‘96 I’m realizing I was slowly beginning my sabbatical well before March of ‘97. Bu$ine$$ is yet another album that I bought over a decade after its release and have never listened to before this write-up. So, let’s see if P learned from the mistakes he made on his previous business venture.

Intro – The first thing you hear on Bu$ine$$ is the same helicopter sample that EPMD’s “It’s My Thing” began with. Then a hard menacing instrumental clip plays with a bunch of vocals soundbites placed over it to welcome PMD back and introduce the album.

Bu$ine$$ I$ Bu$ine$$ – This one opens with P and his homie complaining about the current state of hip-hop (boy, they’d be really pissed about where the genre is today), while a snippet from hip-hop’s favorite movie, Scarface, plays in the background (this song is actually laced full of different Scarface snippets). Then 8-Off drops menacing cinematic musical stabs over steady drums and P’s homie returns to get off an energetic refrain warning any would be competitors that PMD is not to be fucked with. 8-Off’s menacing stabs seamlessly transform into a muffled melody during P’s verses, and it was nice to hear him abandon the annoying stuttering slo-flow that he bombarded us with on Shade Business.

Leave Your Style Cramped – Maybe I spoke too soon. P resurrects his slo-flow for this one, as he spits two sleepy verses and sounds like a man desperately in need of a cup of coffee. Speaking of sleepy, the combination of P’s flow and Charlie Marotta’s drab and dull instrumental nearly knocked me right out.

Rugged-N-Raw – This was the lead single from Bu$ine$$. 8-Off slides P a monster track driven by a magnificently spooky church choir loop and an eerily muddled bass line that finds a jaded but still resilient PMD in “woe is me against the world” mode: “You ask for P, I’m missionin’ to get richin’, lost my other half but I still got my fishermen, hat, it ain’t over ‘til the fat, chicken head cat, wreck, snap that bitch neck, I show and prove, niggas better move slowly, to P the mic doc, the microphone’s my only, friend, can’t even trust nobody, cause next thing you know I’m fuckin’ bustin’ somebody, my shadow got my back and that’s the way it goes, keep my eyes out for foes, and remain on my tippy toes.” P’s hurt and pain has him sounding motivated, as he gets off some of his best bars of the evening on this undeniable banger.

What Cha Gonna Do – Solid Scheme builds this instrumental around a pensive piano loop and quiet drums, and P invites his Hit Squad bredrin, Das EFX to join him on the mic, as the three emcees share a message about the importance of standing on your own and making sound decisions. It’s rare to hear PMD or Das kick knowledge on a record, but they do a serviceable job with the subject at hand.

Never Watered Down – P invites Nocturnal (not to be confused with the Long Beach emcee, Knoc-turn’al) to join him on this duet, as the two emcees exchange bars. Nocturnal, who vaguely reminds me of a sedated Redman, outshines his gracious host (which I think was by design), while 8-Off does it again, this time constructing a dark and desolate gem that both emcees sound right at home rhyming over.

It’s The Pee – This was the second single released from Bu$ine$$. P continues to spew half-hearted boastful bars that mostly fall flat, but I enjoyed Solid Scheme’s regal sounding semi-melancholic instrumental.

Kool Kat – PMD uses Charlie Marotta’s silky-smooth instrumental to practice his story telling skills. After a random first verse, the storyline gets interesting when P introduces a mysterious, sexy, long- haired “Spanish” (aka Latino) steel-packing honey named Jane Doe, which is a cute reference to the infamous female character from the “Jane” EPMD song series (“I said, ‘What’s your name?’ she said ‘Jane Doe’ Oh no, had a flashback when I was running with my man, yo.”). Things peak during the third verse, which ends with Jane Doe cornering P in an elevator and seductively sticking her finger in her G-string, while she licks her lips (yummy), then the fourth and final verse begins and completely fails to give details on what transpired in the elevator, as the song ends with the peculiar vixen giving P some random advice about guns, money, warriors and swords, before she vanishes into thin air. WTF?

Interlude – This interlude sets up the next song…

It’s The Ones – Fabian Hamilton blesses PMD with a fire backdrop that he uses to address foes that pose as friends, and I can’t help but assume that Mr. Sermon was the muse for this record. P doesn’t come alone, as M.O.P. jumps on the track and spices things up with energetic threats of bodily harm to anyone that abuses the loyalty of their family. This was hard.

Nuttin’ Move – Das EFX returns on this joint, which starts out sounding like it’s only going to feature the duo on the mic, then P shows up mid song to get off a couple of bars. It’s not a great record, but it makes for decent filler material.

I’m A B-Boy – A weary sounding PMD uses this soulfully somber DJ Scratch production to pledge his allegiance to B-Boyism: “I don’t play, I don’t drink the Alize, I’ll stay a B-boy until they take my fuckin’ mic away.” Scratch adds a dope Sticky Fingaz soundbite for the hook and the emotional tickling of the keys at the end of the record sounds absolutely amazing.

Rugged-N-Raw – Even though it’s not spelled out in the song title, this is technically a remix. P brings back the same instrumental from the O.G. mix and invites Das EFX to jump on the track with him. I didn’t necessarily need this remix, but the diggity duo bring a little extra seasoning to the fire instrumental. But you can’t still claim “the microphone is my only friend” when you have guests rhyming next to you, P.

After four critically acclaimed gold selling albums with EPMD, I’m sure the dismal sales and negative criticism of his lackluster debut solo album, Shade Business, affected PMD, causing him to re-evaluate his approach to the music. One of the major adjustments he would make with Bu$ine$$ Is Bu$ine$$ would be completely removing himself from production duties and solely focusing on his rhymes. As a result, his recruited production team craft a cohesively dark and moody musical scheme, and I enjoyed the gloom. PMD also abandons his stuttering slo-flow that he first introduced on “Scratch Bring It Back Part 2 (Mic Doc)” off the Business Never Personal album and carried into Shade Business. But even with a more conventional rhyming style and delivery, P sounds like a shell of the emcee we came to know and love during the first EPMD stent, as most of the album finds the Brentwood emcee sounding unmotivated and spewing uninspired rhymes.

Bu$ine$$ Is Bu$ine$$ is a vast improvement and a much more enjoyable listen than Shade Business, but still a far cry from the quality brand of hip-hop we came to expect from the EPMD version of Parrish Smith. On his next solo venture, Parrish would leave the business themed titles alone and call it The Awakening (I bought a used copy a few years back and God willing, I’ll get around to dissecting that album someday). Hopefully, the title’s an indication that P would finally awaken from all this monkey business and get back to serious business on the microphone.

-Deedub

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Westside Connection – Bow Down (October 22, 1996)

Since the eighties, it’s been commonplace in hip-hop for rappers to link up with one another and make cameos on each other’s songs and projects. The cameo appearance or posse cut is a great way to break up the monotony of hearing the same voice over the course of an entire album. It also allows the listener a chance to discover new artists and/or hear some of their favorite artists matched up together on the same track. Some artists have found such great chemistry working together on these types of records that they decide to take things a step further and form supergroups. Through the years we’ve seen several supergroups at work with varying degrees of success: The Firm, HRSMN, Golden State Warriors, Crooklyn Dodgers, Black Star, Red & Meth, Watch The Throne, Run The Jewels, Slaughterhouse, and even the newly formed supergroup, Mt. Westmore. But when discussing the most influential and commercially successful supergroups of all-time, Westside Connection has to be in the conversation.

The first time I heard Ice Cube, W.C. and Cube’s mentee, Mack 10 rhyming together was on “West Up” from W.C. & The Maad Circle’s 1995 album, Curb Servin’, where Dub and Mack just seemed to be representing the West Coast, but you could taste the East Coast spite in Cube’s bars. The same year the threesome linked up for “Westside Slaughterhouse” from Mack 10’s self-titled debut album, and all three of the So-Cal emcees sounded like they had East Coast malice. Ice Cube would infamously diss Common on that record in retaliation for “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” which Cube felt was taking shots at the West Coast, and rightfully so. Common would respond with the highly underrated diss record, “The Bitch In Yoo,” and the East/West feud would continue to grow. In the meantime, Cube, Dub-C and Mack 10 would continue to build on their chemistry, officially forming Westside Connection and releasing their debut group effort, Bow Down at the tail end of 1996.

Bow Down would feature production from Ice Cube and QDIII, but the bulk of its sound would be crafted by a couple of newcomers, Bud’da and Binky. The album would go on to produce two Billboard charting singles, climb to number two on the Billboard Top 200, and it would reach platinum status less than six months after its release.

I didn’t buy Bow Down when it came out back in the day. A few months ago, I bought a CD copy on eBay as I thought it would be an important (or at least intriguing) piece to listen to from 1996. Although this is my first time listening to Bow Down in its entirety, I do remember the singles, and based on those songs, I’m anticipating a whole bunch of crip walkin and the throwin’ up of dubs.

World DominationBow Down opens with the Australian born actor, Jonathan Hyde (who you may remember for his roles in movies like Jumanji, Titanic, The Mummy and starring in Anaconda, alongside the scrumptious Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube) elaborating on who the Westside Connection is and their mission, all delivered in his regal accent and voice, while dark ominous music plays behind him.

Bow Down – WSC starts the night off with the title track that was also the lead single. Cube, Mack 10 and Dub C each spit a verse, as they collectively rep for the West, boast about their gangsta lifestyles and demand that everyone bow down and show reverence; or as Dub-C so hoodly puts it: “All y’all can kiss my Converse like Sho’Nuff.” All three emcees get off decent verses and the hook was solid, but Bud’da’s instrumental sounds a little too soft to back up all of the Connect gang’s tough talk.

Gangstas Make The World Go Round – This was the second single released from Bow Down. Not to be confused with MC Eiht’s “Niggaz Make The Hood Go Round,” Cube (with a co-credit going to Cedric Samson) builds this instrumental around an interpolation of The Stylistics classic single, “People Make The World Go Round,” which was also interpolated on Eiht’s record. As I’m sure you figured out based on the song title, WSC continues their celebration of the West Coast gangsta lifestyle, and surprisingly, Mack 10 out raps his comrades on this one. He sounds unusually slick as he spits: “Three-sixty degrees, like my D’s the world be spinnin’, niggas been sinnin’, since the beginnin’, history’s a trip so I peep when I’m readin’, niggas probably grew weed in the garden of Eden, before big ballin’, sex, cars and loot, it’s like bitches been scandalous bitin’ forbidden fruit,” and later in his verse he gets off my favorite line: “I gave up sports to slang ki’s but blamed it on my knees.” An uncredited male vocalist sprinkles falsetto notes on the hook, adding the cherry on top of this smooth gangsta anthem.

All The Critics In New York – After a short skit, a fed up and offended Ice Cube has a few words for New York hip-hoppers. Then Binky drops a synth-heavy banger that’s guaranteed to have you c-walkin’ and twistin’ your fingers into W’s. Our hosts then take aim at New York journalists and critics (basically The Source and Vibe Magazine) calling them out for what they feel is biased critique: (Ice Cube) “Fuck all the critics in the N-Y-C, and your articles tryna rate my LP…I gotta pocket full of green bustin’ at the seams, fuck your baggy jeans, fuck your magazines.” Between the three of them, Westside Connect gets off a plethora of wise cracks and sharp disses, mostly aimed at New York-based hip-hop journalists and publications, but a couple of artists from hip-hop’s Mecca catch strays as well (Dub C dissin’ Doug E. Fresh’s “I-Ight” record was one of my personal favs). Binky weaves a jazzy horn loop into a portion of the instrumental that sounds like his way of making the music wag its tongue at the dusty jazz loops that were so prevalent in the sound of East Coast hip-hop during the nineties. This was dope.

Do You Like Criminals? – Westside Connect keeps the bangers coming. Bud’da gets his second production credit of the evening as he serves Cube, Dub, Mack, and their guest, K-Dee, an incredible G-funk groove that the foursome use to ask the ladies what kind of guys they’re into. Or specifically, if they like criminals: (Ice Cube) “How would you like to get a rough nigga rugged and raw, outlaw rollin’ down the Shaw, do you want a muthafucka that’s hard, or a bitch-made nigga cute as El DeBarge? Do you like Negroes? Him and those individuals, called criminals? How’d you figure a West Coast nigga, drinkin’ liquor, gotsta know how to dick ya.” Mack-10 and K-Dee keep their content pretty light-hearted, but Dub-C takes the “bad boy criminal” shit too far as he threatens to give a chick an eye jammy for rejecting his advances (“Bitch you best be glad I got three strikes, because back in ’85, I’d been done gave your ass a black eye”). Despite Dub-C’s ridiculousness (which I’ll chalk up to him joking), this was enjoyable in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

Gangstas Don’t Dance (Insert) – A super short interlude that Cube uses to let you know what gangstas do on the dance floor and he reminds you all to bring your…cookies?

The Gangsta, The Killa And The Dope Dealer – Cube assumes the role of the gangsta, Dub C’s the killa, and Mack 10’s the dope dealer. Bud’da slides the threesome a dark twangy backdrop with an eerie howl that falls somewhere in between a gangbanger’s and wolf’s call to action. This isn’t one of the album’s standout tracks, but it’s still decent.

Cross ‘Em Out And Put A ‘K – I’ve never heard of this Bud’da guy before listening to Bow Down, but I have to admit, this dude’s got some heat and this one might be his most fire instrumental of the evening. Over angry synth stabs and a furious bass line, Cube, Mack 10 and Dub C load the clips and let loose on all opposition, and for the first time on the album, they call out a few of their adversaries by name. Cube and Mack 10 fire direct shots at Cypress Hill (who you may remember dissed Ice Cube on “No Rest For The Wicked” from Temples Of Boom for what they felt was thievery of their hook) and Dub C does a drive-by on, of all people, Q-Tip. Well, it’s not really a drive-by, as he claims to kidnap Tip, puts an apple in his mouth before sodomizing him, then murders him and leaves his body in a garbage bag with a cucumber stuck in his ass for good measure (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Even though the lead emcee of my favorite group of all-time was a target, I found this one highly entertaining.

King Of The Hill – Dub C sits this one out and let’s Cube and Mack 10 finish the job they started on the previous track, as the duo dedicate the entire song to Cypress Hill. Over a decent QDIII production, Cube’s in “No Vaseline” form (which he also suggests that Cypress go listen to before they address him on record again), delivering quality blows and hi-larious punchlines (the “B-Real soundin’ like he got baby nuts” bit was hysterical), while Mack 10 proves to be a decent accomplice.

3 Time Felons – Our hosts use this one to brag and boast about the criminal lifestyle and being decorated felons (Cube claims that Westside Connect, collectively, has “eleven strikes” between the three of them). I didn’t necessarily care much for their content, but the hook is catchy, and I really like Bud’da’s slick G-funk slap, punctuated by an audacious buzzing synth clip that sounds like the audio equivalent of mashing on the gas in a six-fo’ just to peel out so the fumes and exhaust can blow fiercely in the face of your haters and naysayers as they stand on the curb.

Westward Ho – QDIII gets his second and final production credit of the evening, providing a smooth seductive synth groove for WSC to spit some good old fashion misogyny over. Of course, this record is filled with an overabundance of bitches, hoes and objectification, but there’s also some romantic moments, like when Ice Cube fantasies about running his “trigger finger all through her extensions” and buying he and his lady “his and her nines.” But it’s Dub-C who gets off the best bars of the song as he describes his dream woman: a 5’10”, two-hundred-and-twenty-pound chick with thigh and c-section scarring, tattoos, stretch marks, and a few bullet wounds. Ya’ll laughing, but I wouldn’t mind meeting this sexy beast in the flesh.

The Pledge (Insert) – WSC remixes and puts a gangsta twist on The Pledge of Allegiance.

Hoo-Bangin’ (WSCG Style) – Westside Connect Gang is in full effect, as K-Dee, Tha Comrades and All Frum Tha l join Cube, Mack 10 and Dub-C for this album ending cipher session. Cube takes another feeble swipe at Common (“I’m bombin’, on Common Sense, Chicago is mine, nigga hit the fence”), but it’s a swing at the wind compared to the missile Common launched at Cube in the form of “The Bitch In Yoo.” Along with Cube’s underwhelming instrumental, none of the parties involved on this one impress, ending Bow Down on a low note.

Bow Down finds a butt hurt Ice Cube all the way pissed off and offended by the disrespect he felt the East Coast (and Common) were showing to West Coast hip-hop, specifically the gangsta sub-genre that he and his N.W.A. bredrin helped pioneer and make commercially successful in the late eighties. By 1996, Cube’s street cred was in shambles (as Common so poignantly pointed out on “The Bitch In Yoo,” Cube went from “gangsta, to Muslim, to the dick of Das EFX,” within the span of five years), so it made perfect sense for the Amerikkka’s Most Wanted rapper to recruit a couple of his comrades with legitimate gangsta backgrounds to accompany him on an East Coast hoo-ride, while proudly waiving the Westside banner.

Over the course of Bow Down’s thirteen tracks, Westside Connection defends its coast, declares war, and verbally assaults anything and anyone even remotely associated with East Coast hip-hop, while brashly flaunting and promoting the criminal/gangbangin’ lifestyle; and of course, they had to sprinkle a little misogyny into the mix. Bow Down’s tracks are scored with synth-heavy G-Funkish production (a few of them are incredible bangers), which makes perfect sense for this West Coast celebration and serves as the perfect accomplice to WSC’s verbal drive-bys. There are a few dull and unnecessary moments on Bow Down, but the majority of it (evoking my west coast slang) sounds hella dope.

In the mist of firing shots and making violent threats on “All The Critics In New York,” Cube pauses for a second and says, “I hope blood ain’t got to spill.” Unfortunately, as the frivolous coastal feud continued, both coast’s biggest stars, 2pac and Biggie, would lose their lives. I’m sure Westside Connection had nothing directly to do with either of their murders, but it could be argued that some of Bow Down’s content helped water the seeds of hate that led to their tragic deaths. So, while Bow Down is indeed an entertaining listen, the violent events that followed what some of its content perpetuated will forever loom over it.

-Deedub

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