Fugees – Blunted On Reality (February, 1 1994)

Years before Wyclef Jean would become a pop-star, Lauryn Hill would create arguably the most influential album of the nineties (which allegedly was inspired by her love affair with Wyclef) launching her into superstardom, Pras would give us, uh…”Ghetto Supastar”, and collectively the trio would create one of the greatest hip-hop album of all time in The Score, the threesome, collectively known as the Fugees, had a beginning.

The first inception of the Fugees didn’t include Wyclef, but instead was Pras, Lauryn and a second female emcee, who all lived in the Newark, New Jersey area and went to high school together. Wyclef, who was born in Haiti and moved to Newark as a kid, was a few years older than Pras and Lauryn and was already doing his thing (in a different group, then later as a solo artist), but eventually would join Pras and Lauryn (the other female emcee would end up leaving the group) forming the revamped version of Fugees. The trio signed a deal with Ruffhouse/Columbia where they would release their debut album Blunted On Reality 

Wyclef, Pras and Khalis Bayyan (who is one of the co-founding members of the legendary band Kool & The Gang) would handle most of the production work on Blunted On Reality. The album did produce a couple of mild hits but didn’t sell well, nor did it receive great reviews. In Brian Coleman’s book Check The Technique Wyclef and Pras even admit that they felt Blunted On Reality, in so many words, was trash. That doesn’t leave me optimistic going into this one.

Introduction  – Blunted On Reality opens with a distorted voice (is it supposed to be God? Maybe Satan?) asking Wyclef questions, to which he replies to screaming like he’s burning in the pits of hell. Lauryn then spits a short spoken word piece about race relations in America, which sets up the next song…

Nappy Heads – Wyclef, Pras, Brand X and Rashad Muhammad get the production credit for this rugged backdrop and the Fugees, loosely, dedicate this one to our African-American heroes. Clef, Pras and L-Boogie sound like their moving way too fast and that they were more focused on creating energy than tight flows, delivery and clarity. The instrumental was cool, though.

Blunted Interlude – The song begins with the trio puffin’ on the magic dragon and getting philosophical about weed and all of its “magical powers”. Then a decent instrumental drops (with production credit going to Clef, Pras and Khalis Bayyan) and the trio talk their shit spitting random sup par bars. Not a terrible song, but not mind-blowing, either.

Recharge – Our hosts don’t really say anything worth quoting on this one (matter of fact, I could barely make out what any of them are saying, including Wyclef’s jumbled hook), but this instrumental is fire!

Freestyle Interlude – Wyclef and Pras spit terrible freestyles and are completely outshined by their homie T-Black, on this interlude. Thankfully, Pras’ verse is cut short when 5-0 roll on the scene and shuts shit down. Shit, Clef and Pras’ rhymes are so weak on this one they should have both been booked on charges for impersonating emcees.

Vocab – This was the third and final single released from Blunted On Reality. Wyclef and Pras lay down a  simple acoustic guitar riff (which I would be willing to bet is more Wyclef than Pras’ doing) as they and Lauryn take turns spitting their vocab over it. The video version of this song uses a more upbeat instrumental (or maybe it’s just the addition of drums that make it sound more upbeat), which is the version I first heard. I think the remix is a better song, since all three emcees sound sharper on the mic, but the original is still cool.

Special News Bulletin Interlude – Just your normal, useless, run-of-the-mill hip-hop interlude.

Boof Baf – This was actually the first single released from Blunted On Reality, and this is my first time hearing it. It clearly didn’t make any noise on the charts, rightfully so, because everything about this song is terrible.

Temple – Clef, Pras and Khalis Bayyan concoct a Caribbean-flavored instrumental, as all three Fugees use their verses to discuss religion, although Clef and Pras get sidetracked on occasion. As is, this song is rough around the edges and needs an I dotted here and a T crossed there, but it definitely gives a glimpse of the potential the trio would soon walk in.

How Hard Is It? – Thank you Fugees for using proper punctuation in the song title, but this song is still trash.

Harlem Chit Chat Interlude – It plays just as it reads.

Some Seek Stardom – Lauryn gets the first solo joint of the evening. Rashad Muhammad and Stephen Walker lay down subdue drums under a slick loop from Aretha Franklin’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (rest in peace to the Queen of Soul) and L-Boogie waxes poetic as she discusses life, death and the importance of revering God in this life. She even displays some of that fabulous singing voice at the end of the song that the world would soon fall in love with. L’s clarity and delivery were pretty bad on this one, but she definitely had a lot to say, and I like the instrumental.

Giggles – This is Pras’ solo joint, and everything about this song is so terrible it will make you giggle while you contemplate whether or not this nigga is serious about this rap thing.

Da Kid From Haiti Interlude – Interlude to set up the next song…

Refugees On The Mic – Wyclef, Pras and Mr. Bayyan construct a bluesy backdrop and dedicate this one to all the Haitian refugees, or at least Clef and Pras. I wasn’t crazy about this song, but it makes for decent filler material.

Living Like There Ain’t No Tomorrow – Lauryn and Pras had their shot, so it’s only right that Wyclef gets a solo joint too. Clef and Pras lay down a decent backdrop (that Clef hi-lariously shares that he “looped this on the S-nine-hundred” because he “couldn’t afford an eleven hundred”) for Clef, and he gets pretty animated as he shares a few tales about living reckless. Not a great song, but Wyclef’s stories make it mildly entertaining.

Shouts Out From The Block – The Fugees bring back the instrumental from the previous song and Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras give their shoutouts and invite, what sounds like everybody from their hood, to give shoutouts as well. This goes on for over ten minutes, which is extremely excessive and unnecessary.

Nappy Heads (Remix) – This remix was my first introduction to the Fugees. A young Salaam Remi hooks up an emotional and melodic backdrop for Wyclef, L-Boogie and Pras to celebrate the Nappy Heads, again. With the exception of Wyclef’s second verse, the trio lay down new lyrics, lay off the over the top energy, slow down a bit and start to settle into the synergy that made The Score so great. This song still sounds amazing 20 plus years later.

Blunted On Reality could have baked in the oven for another 30 minutes (or 3 hours), because when the Fugees served it to the world it definitely wasn’t ready. There are a few bright moments on the production side, but most of its mediocre at best. And Wyclef, Pras and Lauryn (who’s a strong argument for top ten emcees of all time in my book) were still trying to find their footing on the mic, rendering a large chunk of the album skippable. But thank God for seconds chances. Without them we’d have no Malcolm X. No Muhammad Ali. No Saint Peter. And no Fugees’ classic album in the form of  The Score.

-Deedub

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The UMC’s – Unleashed (January 25, 1994)

If you read this blog faithfully then you are already fully aware that I believe the UMC’s debut album Fruits of Nature is severely underrated (and if you didn’t you know now; but you can read my full thoughts about Fruits of Nature by clicking here). Even with two pretty well received singles, the album didn’t move a ton of units and most hip-hop heads didn’t know what to think of the Staten Island duo’s everyday Joe persona. If nobody else believed in the UMC’s, their label Wild Pitch did, as they would return two years later to release their follow-up album, Unleashed.

Haas G and RNS (a Staten Island producer who would go on to produce tracks for some of the Wu-Tang Clan affiliates) handled all the production work on Fruits of Nature, but this time around Haas and Kool Kim would keep the production work in-house and are both credited for the entirety of Unleashed‘s production. The album would go on to make even less noise than it’s predecessor, as it would produce no hot singles, nor would it sell enough copies to even earn a wood plaque, thus marking the end to the short-lived era of the UMC’s (Kool Kim would reinvent himself in the early 2000’s as the solo hardcore/conscious emcee, NYOIL, but that was short-lived as well).

I’m not sure if Unleashed‘s failure was do to poor marketing on Wild Pitch’s behalf or if it was just a trash body of work. The fact that I didn’t even know Unleashed existed until a few  years ago makes me feel it may be the former, but since this is my first time listening to the album, I’ll…unleash my finding when I’m done.

Time To Set It Straight – The UMC’s start things off with a solid mid-tempo groove, as both Haas G and Kool Kim spit two verses, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re moving with a different energy this time around. They actually sound a lot like the post-Diggidy era Das EFX (Kool Kim more so than Haas G), with Kool Kim sounding more polished than his partner, as he serves you “hot buttered soul” on his “hip-hop roll” (shoutout to Isaac Hayes). Even with the obvious swagger jacking, I like this one.

We Go – The UMC’s hook up a hard backdrop with a nasty bass line, as they go back and forth trying to demolish it. They don’t quite accomplish their goal, but they do a decent job with the dope instrumental. It would have been nice to hear Das EFX jump on this track with our hosts.

Evil Ways – The UMC’s take the energy level down a bit with this slick backdrop, complete with a catchy vocal sample taken from Santana’s song with the same title. Haas and Kim spit darker rhymes than UMC fans are accustomed to hearing, but they still sound decent.

Hit The Track – The duo continue to delve into their new-found high-energy rapid pace flow over a less than spectacular instrumental. Haas and Kim sound cool, but the instrumental is barely passable, and that vocal sample gets annoying as hell after the first listen.

What’s Up – Our hosts hook up a rough backdrop that they use it to talk shit and spit unbelievable battle rhymes over. This one could have been left on the cutting room floor.

Staten Island Comes First – Kim and Haas rep for their borough over a laid back jazzy instrumental. Kim cleverly sneaks in a shoutout to Martin Lawrence for putting up a poster of the Fruits of Nature album cover in his apartment for the first few seasons of the classic sitcom Martin, as he raps “I get up (ya gets down) that’s what I’m about, then hang around Martin Lawrence’s house, niggy check me out”. Side note: Martin also had a poster of Tupac’s 2Pacalypse Now album cover in his apartment for the first few seasons.

Ill Demonic Clique – Haas and Kim invite 3.,2.,1., Gold Rush and RUX, collectively known as the Ill Demonic Clique, to join them on this posse joint. The five emcees bypass an unnecessary hook and relentlessly spit high energy bars, keeping the microphone moving around the cipher over the stripped down, but very dope, instrumental. 3.,2.,1., outshines his hungry bredrin with lines like “I grab the mic emcees start surfin’, let your rhymes collect unemployment checks cause they ain’t workin'” and “I get the urge, I kill you with my verbs, so put on a condom and fuck what ya heard” or “And beware when I get the rough vibes, I killed a nigga twelve times, because he had nine lives”. This was sick. I would have loved to hear an album from the trio, that the UMC promised was coming in the liner notes but never materialized.

Some Speak Ill Thoughts – The UMC’s hook up an ill bleak backdrop reminiscent of some Premo-in-his-prime-type shit. They match the instrumental’s dark vibes and live up to the song’s title as Kim spits rhymes like “I be a real hypocrite, low-life, yet male chauvinistic, sexist sleazebag my best characteristic, I’m a pathological liar, my father don’t trust me, shit if I were you I’d bust me, cause even I disgust me” and Haas rhymes :”Elevatin’ from the pits of hell screamin’, I’m the demon, created by society’s evil semen”. This was sick (in a good way) and easily my favorite song on Unleashed.

Whoa Now – This song is so forgettable that even though I’ve listened to Unleashed from beginning to end, at least ten times in the past few weeks, I still can’t remember what the song sounds like when I see the song title.

Pleasure In The Dark – This song must have been recorded before Haas and Kim decided to morph into the dark and edgy emcees they’ve been for most of Unleashed. The instrumental is pleasant and the duo both rap in a style similar to how they sounded on Fruits of Nature, only more polished. I like this one.

Can You Feel It – This sounds like it could have found a home on Fruits of Nature. Well, at least the instrumental, which is a mid-tempo groove with an understated soul feel to it.  Kim and Haas sound comfortable rhyming over it as they ride it, nearly to perfection.

How It Gotta Be – The instrumental has nice warm feel good vibes written all over it, but don’t let that fool you. Haas and Kim (more so Kim) are in asshole mode, as they take off the gentlemen like tendencies they displayed on Fruits of Nature‘s break-up song “Woman Be Out” and get super blunt on this one, telling the ladies “if you ain’t fuckin’ than get out”. If the verses from the once “nice guy” emcees weren’t harsh enough to make you clutch your gold chains, wait until you hear the perverse adlibs from the duo and their crew as the song fades out; 2 Live Crew would even feel uncomfortable listening to them.

Gotta Be Sure – Much like “Pleasure In The Dark”, the instrumental and the UMC’s flow has Fruits of Nature’s energy dripping all over it. I love the soulful backdrop on this one.

My Thing – The final song of the evening has the self-proclaimed “undisputed masters of charisma” rhyming over a trash instrumental and shouting an extremely corny hook. This was not a good way to end the album.

Gone are the wholesome emcees that UMC fans became accustomed to on Fruits of Nature. Unleashed finds Haas G and Kool Kim running wild, as they turn into hardcore foul-mouthed ruffnecks with no morals, which is why Kool Kim probably didn’t feel guilty for stealing Das EFX rhyming style. As much as I love Fruits of Nature, I like the duo’s edginess and their rhyming sounds more polished on Unleashed. Pound for pound, Fruits of Nature is the better body of work, mainly due to better overall production and two classic singles in “Blue Cheese” and “One To Grow On” (which Unleashed lacks), but like Fruits of Nature, Unleashed is a solid album that should have gotten more love than it received.

-Deedub

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Kurious – A Constipated Monkey (January 18, 1994)

Jorge Alvarez, better known to the world as Kurious (taken from the children’s book character Curious George), is a Puerto Rican-Cuban rapper from Manhattan. I first heard Kurious in 1993 when he made a quick cameo on Del The Funky Homosapien’s No Need For Alarm (see “Boo Boo Heads”), and that same year he also spit a verse on Prime Minister Pete Nice & Daddy Rich’s album Dust To Dust (see “3 Blind Mice”). Kurious’ relationship with Pete Nice would play a part in him signing a deal with Columbia, where he would release his debut album A Constipated Monkey

Kurious would bring along his deejay, Lord Sear (who you can catch on Shade 45 on SiriusXM) and his sidekick Kadi aka the man with the yellow hat (those familiar with the Curious George Book series will get it, but it’s still super corny), who plays a similar but less significant role on A Constipated Monkey that Consequence played on Beats, Rhymes and Life. Kurious would call on the Beatnuts, The SD50’s (aka The Stimulated Dummies) Bosco Money and his buddies Pete Nice and Daddy Rich to sonically shape A Constipated Monkey. The album didn’t move a ton of units but it did receive solid reviews, and is still held in high regards amongst hip-hop heads alike.

I haven’t listen to A Constipated Monkey in years, so let’s see if it still sounds as good as I remember it.

Spell It Wit A J (Yes, Yes Jorge)A Constipated Monkey starts with some weirdo rambling on in an annoying voice about being “full of shit.” Then what I like to call a “base model” Beatnuts instrumental (which means it’s solid, but doesn’t have all the additional bells and whistles that they have the ability to add to make an average instrumental a superb one) comes in and Kurious uses it to introduce himself to the world. And in case you were curious (no pun intend), he spells his first name with a “J”, not with a “G”.

Top Notch – Kurious must have coughed up a little more bread for this Beatnuts track, cause it has all the bells and whistles that were missing on the previous song. Jorge invites his sidekick Kadi, Psycho Les (from the Beatnuts) and the Frenchmen that A Tribe Called Quest made a song about, Lucien (see “Luck of Lucien” from Peoples Instinctive Travels) the self-proclaimed “French nigga” to join him on the mic. While his guests fail to impress (Lucien actually sounds terrible), Kurious sounds decent; but it’s the Beatnuts crispy clean perfect dosage of slickness that carries this song.

I’m Kurious – Pete Nice & Daddy Rich get their only production credit on A Constipated Monkey, and they make sure it counts, constructing this very serious sounding, but extremely dope instrumental around a slick Blackbyrd’s loop and a Midnight Star vocal sample. Kurious tries to match the track’s seriousness and does a decent job, as he does some reflecting and gets introspective. This is definitely one of my favorite songs on A Constipated Monkey.

Uptown Shit – This was one of the singles released from A Constipated Monkey, and man, does this record bring back good memories. Kurious, The Omen (which is a terrible alias; his verse was mysteriously left off of the video edit and replaced by another Kurious verse) and Kadi represent for Uptown on this one. Again, none of them give us mesmerizing bars, but the Beatnuts’ instrumental is dope enough to carry the song by itself.

Leave Ya’ With This – The SD50’s keep what has sonically been an enjoyable listen so far, enjoyable with this mellow instrumental that Kurious uses to pay respect to KMD’s late deejay (and Zev Love X aka MF Doom’s brother) Subroc. Most of Kurious’ bars have nothing to do with Subroc, as he goes from talking random shit to quickly tying the last few bars of each verse together as a dedication to the fallen deejay, but it’s still cool. I absolutely love the horn loop brought in during the hook (MC Lyte used the same loop on Ain’t No Other’s “Lil Paul”). RIP Subroc.

Fresh Out The Box – The Beatnuts keep A Constipated Monkey chugging right along with more solid production, and average rhymes from Kurious.

Walk Like A Duck – This was the lead single from A Constipated Monkey. The Beatnuts hook up a drowsy instrumental that our host uses to take subliminals at somebody he feels had “vicious” words to say behind his back (as he states in the opening seconds of the song). I hated this song back in the day and I still don’t care for it.

Tear Shit Up – Kurious continues to spew random rhymes over some beautiful Beatnuts production work. That’s all I got.

Baby Bust It – The SD50’s hook up a cool mid-tempo groove, which includes a very catchy vocal sample from the lead emcee of my favorite hip-hop group of all time (I’ll let you guess who). Kurious invites Kadi and Grim Reaper (who would later change his alias to MF Grimm) to join him on the mic. For some reason Kurious decides to take a shot at Marky Mark during his verse (“I think I keep it sharp like a sword, unlike a two-bit punk in his drawers on a Billboard…Calvin Klein’s, no friend of mine”), which doesn’t earn you any street cred (but I definitely think Mark Wahlberg would whoop Kurious’ ass in a fist fight, back then and even more so today). If you know what his beef was about, leave the details in the comments, please. Kadi shows why he’s only a hype man, while MF Grimm delivers the most intriguing verse of the three (I still chuckle at his threat to choke dudes out “like Radio Raheem”…those unfamiliar with Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing won’t get it). All in all a solid song.

Nikole – Bosco Money constructs a beautiful backdrop for Kurious to speak about a girl named Nikole that’s left him heartbroken. This is a very well-crafted song, and probably my favorite song on A Constipated Monkey.

What’s The Real – Hieroglyphics crew member, Casual stops by to tag-team the mic with Kurious. I’ve never been a huge Casual fan, although up to this point I’ve probably only heard him spit on three songs. In the last few years I’ve picked up a couple of his albums, including his debut Fear Itself, that I’ll being listening to for the first time in the next few weeks. He sounds like a less talented version of Del The Funky Homosapien. He and Kurious exchange respectable verses on this one, but I really like the SD50’s jazzy backdrop. This song (mainly the instrumental) sounds so much better today than it did back in the nineties. Time is truly, illmatic.

Jorge Of The Projects – The final song of the evening finds Kurious reminiscing about the Projects that he grew up in, which I found interesting considering he’s from the upscale area of Upper Manhattan…but what do I know? The SD50’s finish A Constipated Monkey strong with a dope rumbling bass line and a beautiful horn loop to warm your heart.

Even though most of his content is juvenile, repetitive and lacks depth, Kurious proves to be a decent emcee on his debut album, but the production work is the shoulders that truly carry A Constipated Monkey. With the exception of “Walk Like A Duck”, the Beatnuts, The SD50’s, Bosco Money and Pete Nice & Daddy Rich string together a batch of great instrumentals for Kurious and his guests to spill their verses over. A Constipated Monkey may not be a classic album, but it’s definitely a complimentary patch in the quilt that made 1994 arguably, the best year in hip-hop.

-Deedub

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YAGGFU Front – Action Packed Adventure (January 18, 1994)

What is a Yaggfu Front? Well, it was a short-lived North Carolina based rap trio consisting of D’Ranged & Damaged, Spin 4th and Jingle Bel. “Yaggfu” is actually an acronym for “You are gonna get fucked up” (if you) front. I’m not super familiar with their back story but the trio managed to snag a record deal with Mercury and released their debut album Action Packed Adventure in 1994, which I’m pretty sure would make them the first hip-hop group out of North Carolina to release an album on a major label (feel free to hit me in the comments if I’m incorrect).

With the exception of three tracks, all of the production work on Action Packed Adventure was handled by Yaggfu Front. The album did receive favorable reviews upon its release (including a respectable 3.5 mics from The Source), but didn’t do so well on SoundScan. The poor sells would lead to the trio eventually fading away forever like George Jefferson’s hair-line (RIP Sherman Hemsley).

A few months ago I found a used copy of Action Packed Adventure for a couple of dollars and figured I check it out since I vaguely remember seeing one of their videos on BET’s Rap City (remember that show?) back in the day. This post marks my first time listening to the album, so let’s see if Action Packed Adventure lives up to it’s name.

Fanfare & Previews – Since Action Packed Adventure is supposed to play as a movie, it’s only right that it starts off with some fanfare and previews, right? After a ghetto chick gives instructions to the audience how to conduct themselves during the movie (before anyone gets their panties all in a bunch over the term “ghetto chick”, listen to the song and then you’ll understand what I mean) a preview for a movie, that I don’t know the name of due to poor clarity on Yaggfu Front’s behalf, about a 2 legged police dog (one in the front and one in the back) plays, followed by a song from that fictional movie’s fictional soundtrack by the fictional rap group The Really Hard Muthafuckas. After that bit of comic relief, a slightly somber but very epic instrumental plays, while a distorted voice introduces the members of Yaggfu Front to the listener, or the audience. This reasonably entertaining intro ends with some girls dissin’  Yaggfu’s kicks, setting up the next song…

Where’d You Get Your Bo Bo’s? – For you younger readers (if I actually have any younger readers), “Bo-Bo’s” is a slang term for cheap sneakers (i.e. Kangaroos or any sneakers you can buy at Payless or Wal-Mart). Yaggfu’s rhymes have absolutely nothing to do with the song title and hook, as they pretty use this one to introduce themselves to the world, shoutout their peeps and their home state, North Carolina. The jazzy backdrop is cool, but it would have been nice for the first real song of the evening to have a little more energy.

Trooper 101 – New Vibe Messengers (I’ve never heard of them either) hook up a funk backdrop with jazzy horns sprinkled in for additional flavor. It sounds like something EPMD and A Tribe Called would concoct if they did a production collaboration. Our hosts use it to light-heartily discuss their run ins with the po-po. Not a terrible song, but it also doesn’t have much replay value.

Mr. Hook – On this one the NC trio are apparently captured by pirates (“Mr. Hook” as in Captain Hook) and forced to walk the plank to their deaths. I’m not sure if their story is supposed to be taken at face value or if there is a deeper hidden meaning. I really could care less, but the instrumental for this track is a thing of beauty.

Busted Loop – By this point of Action Packed Adventure it’s very clear that 4th Spin, Damaged and Jingle Bel are not great emcees, but they definitely know how to craft quality instrumentals. The trio hooks up yet another enjoyable jazz flavored backdrop with a dope swing vibe to it.

Fruitless-Moot – Dope drums, bass line and flute loop (courtesy of New Vibe Messengers). Everything else about this song is fruitless and moot.

Black Liquid – Jingle Bel and Spin 4th share a weird tale about a college science course experiment that takes an unusual twist after Spin 4th drinks the black liquid concoction from one of the beakers and (wait for it) it turns him into a lyrical monster. Well, we know this story is fiction. The storyline is very cheesy, but I love Yaggfu’s drowsy jazz instrumental work on this one.

Slappin’ Suckas Silly (LP Remix) – I’ve never heard the original, and after listening to this remix I’m in no rush to hear the original.

Action Packed Adventure – I have no idea what our hosts are rhyming about on this title track, but I’m a sucker for xylophone loops in hip-hop songs.

Left Field – On this one Jingle Bel, Damage and 4th Spin take turns to talk about a time when they were pussies, I mean, scared to step to woman that they were attracted to. I love the organ loop laced throughout this song.

Hold ‘Em Back (What’s The Meaning?) – This song has one of the funkiest bass lines I’ve heard so far for my ’94 posts. And when you combine the bass line with the angelic-like vocal loop and the high energy hook (damn I miss all those super-hyped group chant choruses from the nineties), this song is pretty entertaining.

Uptown Downtown – Yaggfu Front continues to impress with their production. They take a break from the heavy dosage of jazz loops and lay down a funky little diddly to spit their below average rhymes over.

Frontline – On this one the trio talk about how men front about who they are and what they have in order to impress the ladies and get what they want. None of their verses are memorable, but the instrumental, which is built around a wavy Roy Ayers loop, is beautiful and as smooth as a baby’s ass.

Sweet Caroline – Yaggfu Front builds the instrumental around a dope loop from the Gap Band’s rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. And even though Charlie Wilson sings “Caroline” instead of “Carolina”, it still works as a slick shoutout to the trio’s home state. Speaking of shoutouts, that’s exactly what Yaggfu Front uses this instrumental to do. Well done, fellas.

My Dick Is So Large (Bonus Track) – The final song of the evening is hi-larious. Damage, Spin and Jingle are in full clown mode as they take turns boasting about the size of their jimmies. Minnesota (who would go on to produce songs for Grand Puba, Lil’ Kim, Big Pun and Mos Def, just to name a few) gets the production credit and hooks up a decent backdrop for the trio, but this may be the only song on Action Packed Adventure that Yaggfu Front actually sounds more entertaining than the production.

Action Packed Adventure proves Jingle Bel, D’Ranged N Damage and Spin 4th all to be sub-par emcees. None of the three establish their own identity on the mic, as they all rap in the same monotone voice, and more often than not, their vocals are overtaken by their production and get lost in the instrumentals. You won’t get any lyrical mastery from these guys, but if you’re looking for quality nineties production, you’ve come to the right album. From beginning to end the production work on Action Packed Adventure is solid with a large chuck of it being really damn good. There really is no reason why Yaggfu Front should have made a second album, but I’m shocked they didn’t go on to produce for other artists.

-Deedub

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T-Bone – Redeemed Hoodlum (August 1993)


The final backlog post. Look for the start of 1994 in the next few weeks!

I’m sure most of you are not familiar with T-Bone, so allow me to give you a brief background. Born Rene Francisco Sotomayor to a Nicaraguan father and a Salvadoran mother, T-Bone is a Christian rapper born and bred in San Francisco. A few of you may remember him for his scene stealing role as the rapping convict Briggs in the Beyoncé/Cuba Gooding Jr. movie The Fighting Temptations (dude made Lil Zane sound like an amateur…wait, Lil Zane always sounded like an amateur). He is also the only rapper I can currently think of that murdered KRS-One on his own shit. You thank I’m crazy? Check out “The Struggle Continues” from KRS-One’s Spiritual Minded album and tell me different.  After coming to the Lord in his teens, T-Bone signed a deal with the small Christian label, Metro One, where he would release his debut album, Redeemed Hoodlum.

T-Bone would tap the LA Posse (best known for their production work for several of the tracks on LL Cool J’s BAD album) to produce the entirety of Redeemed Hoodlum. Even though at this point, Big Dad, Bobcat and DJ Pooh were no longer part of LA Posse, original member Muffla still remained, and his new partner, Chase (who receives co-production credit on Redeemed Hoodlum) would make up the new LA Posse roster.

My brother-in-law hipped me to this album in the late nineties at a time when I was searching and super hungry for God and truth. I had it on cassette back then, and years later when I ran across a used cd copy for a few bucks, a brother had to make that minimal investment.

Hopefully Redeemed Hoodlum lives up to the nostalgia.

Baseball Intro – Short intro that T-Bone uses to tell the world where he’s from and what his expectations are for this album.

Saved to da bone prelude – I’m not sure why this wasn’t just tacked on to the “Baseball Intro”. But as the title suggest, it’s a quick sampler of a song to come a little later down the sequenced road.

Jabbin the Jaw – The first actual song on Redeemed Hoodlum finds T-Bone displaying his nimble tongue, as he takes shots at Muslims’ theology, slays a few demons, does a little witnessing and gets goofy with the wordplay. The LA Posse lays down a solid instrumental for our host to do his thing on, and I love the understated horn loop brought in during the hook.

Redeemed Hoodlum – T-Bone gives his testimony as he talks about his youth, coming up in the hood amongst gangbangin’, selling drugs and *clutching my pearls* spewing secular raps (I’m very curious to hear what T-Bone’s rhymes sounded like pre-Jesus), until he met Jesus Christ on his Damascus Road. On the song’s final verse our host hits one of my pet peeves when he claims “I’m never stuck up, I’m always humble.” I absolutely hate when people say how humble they are, since the act itself is very prideful. LA Posse puts some stank on the mid-tempo funk instrumental, giving some validation To Bone’s hardcore edginess.

Rugged Rhyme Sayer – Muffla and crew slides Bone some old soulful loveliness for this one. T-Bone uses the melodic backdrop to spew randomness over the course of three verses, but keeps it Jesus. I did find his lines about Catholic School and Virgin Mary pretty interesting. T-Bone sounds solid on this one (minus the hook where he sounds like a poor man’s B-Real), but the instrumental is the true star.

Commin of da Judgment – T-Bone takes us to church on this one. Literally. Bone invites The (or as the liner notes state “Da”) First Missionary Baptist Church’s choir to sing the hook, and the instrumental includes a live organ that make you feel like you’re sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. Our host basically preaches a sermon over it, as he casually refers to Jesus as “JC” (a term that my dad, who happens to be deeply involved in church, views as a form of disrespect). The spirit even falls on T-Bone during his first verse as he goes into tongues (if you’re not familiar with the whole “speaking in tongues” thing, turn in your bibles to Acts 19:6) mid verse, and amazingly, it fits perfectly into his rhymes (look at God!). This is not my favorite song on Redeemed Hoodlum, but it’s decent.

Lyrical Assassin – This is the first real mishap of the evening. T-Bone goes on a demon killing spree and completely rips B-Real’s nasally delivery and flow, and even steals some of his rhymes. To make matters worse, Muffla and ’em even hook up a track that’s sounds like a generic replica of the “How I Could Just Kill A Man” instrumental. This was bad.

Saved to the Bone – The “Saved to the bone prelude” gave a glimpse into the dopeness of the song’s instrumental; but just a glimpse. I’ve heard this Eddie Harris “Turbulence” loop used before (see Heavy D’s “A Buncha Niggas”), but the way the LA Posse flips it is absolutely bananas! T-Bone matches the track’s energy every step up of the way and at certain points raps circles around it. This is easily the best song on Redeemed Hoodlum.

Da Protecta, Da Fixa – LA Posse hooks up a nasty boom-bap production, complete with Premo-esque scratches on the hook, as T-Bone (who proclaims himself as the “Christian John Wayne” on the song’s second verse) gets loose and takes on emcees and demons. I don’t remember this song being on Redeemed Hoodlum, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Virginia Watson Interview – Plays exactly as it reads.

Divided We Fall – T-Bone calls for his Latino gangbanging brethren to come together in peace and unity. Our host sounds confident and comfortable over the dope mid-tempo backdrop. This was solid.

Barrio Blues – “Barrio” is Spanish for “neighborhood.”  Based on Bone’s content, I believe he saying he’s got the “hood blues.” This wasn’t a great song, but it makes for decent filler material.

Gloria Estefan Interlude – This was super corny and very useless.

Predicador de la Calle – Translates to “Street Preacher”. T-Bone spits the entire song in Spanish, so I’m not sure what he’s saying, but his flow and the instrumental are on point.

Hoodlums PrayerRedeemed Hoodlum ends with a very drab instrumental and T-Bone rapping in a cadence and flow reminiscent of 1984. I don’t care if this was supposed to be a prayer, this was terrible.

You may not agree with T-Bone’s theology or content (I’ll even admit that the whole “buckin’ demons down” is kind of cheesy), but after listening to Redeemed Hoodlum there’s no denying that the dude can spit. And when you combine T-Bone’s skill and charisma with the quality production that LA Posse laced Redeemed Hoodlum with, you got a winner. And the church said…amen.

Deedub

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Digital Underground – The Body-Hat Syndrome (October 5, 1993)

We last heard from the Oakland based collective, Digital Underground, in 1991 with their homage to P-funk album, Sons of The P. They would return at the tail end of 1993 with their fourth project, third full-length album, and their final release on Tommy Boy, The Body-Hat Syndrome.

As usual, D-Flo (which is the collective of Shock-G, Gary Katz and DJ JZ ) would handle all of the production work on The Body-Hat Syndrome. Along with the usual suspects of Shock-G, Humpty, Money B and Schmoovy-Schmoov on the mic, newcomers Clee and Saafir (who I will always associate as Harold from the classic hood movie Menace II Society, but is often revered for being a sharp lyricists and known for his classic battle with the Hieroglyphic crew back in the nineties) appear on several of the album’s songs, and O.G. member of DU, 2pac stops by to make a couple of appearances as well.

The Body-Hat Syndrome did receive favorable reviews upon its release, but the album’s sells weren’t as favorable. It would be the first project in DU’s catalog that did not earn at least a gold plaque (which is 500,000 copies sold for those not familiar with record business jargon).

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea The Body-Hat Syndrome even existed, until I stumbled across a copy while diggin’ through the used cd bins at one of my favorite spots. I’m still scratching my head on how I missed this album from a time when Digital Underground was truly poppin’, still on Tommy Boy (so there had to be promotional money behind it) and released at a time where I kept up with everything hip-hop related.

The man who knows something, knows that he knows nothing at all.

The Return of The Crazy One – DU kicks off The Body-Hat Syndrome with a funky beat and the crew’s’ resident clown (also Shock-G’s alter-ego) Humpty-Hump clowning all over the track. Hump doesn’t say anything mind-blowing on this one, but his nonsensical rhymes will keep you entertained.

Doo Woo You – Saafir makes his rap recording debut on this one, as he and Shock-G take turns calling out all of their closed-minded haters, though the hook could lead one to believe this is a love song. D-Flo’s instrumental sounds like a drowsy stripped-down-filtered version of the backdrop for 2pac’s “I Get Around” (which D-Flo also produced), and that’s not a bad thing. At seven and a half minutes, the song may run a bit too long, but I still dug it.

Holly Wanstaho – Saafir teams up with Shock-G again, and this time their shittin’ on a girl named Holly and her hoeing hobby. Shock and Saafir fail to impress on the mic, and the instrumental sounds like a bunch of noise.

Bran Nu Swetta – DU keeps things light, as Shock, Money B and Saafir each spit a verse about their experiences with women whose interest in them was so intense it bordered on stalking. I’ve never really listened to a lot of Saafir’s lyrics before today, but I’ve heard many call him a master wordsmith. I have to admit I’m not that impressed with what I’ve heard from him on The Body-Hat Syndrome, up to this point. Money B actually delivers the strongest verse on the song, in my opinion. The instrumental is barely decent, and there is really no reason to listen to this song more than once.

The Humpty Dance Awards – This is the first of three bonus tracks only included on the CD format of The Body-Hat Syndrome. Fresh off of his new-found success in Hollywood, 2pac reunites with his Digital brethren, as he and Humpty host the first ever Humpty Dance Awards. You ask, “what are the Humpty Dance Awards”? It’s a faux award given to artist that Digital Underground feels borrowed elements from their hit record “The Humpty Dance”. The CD insert even includes an elaborate ballot with different categories (i.e. “Best Use By Group Or Duo”, “Best R&B Usage”, “Hidden Use Award”, “Boldest Jack-Move”, etc.). Pac and Hump play a quick clip off all the songs up for the award, and I must admit, I never new how many different songs borrowed the drums from “The Humpty Dance”. It appears to all be done in jest with no hard feelings from DU, considering the long drawn out thesis in the album insert about all musical ideas being free and that no one can own a beat, melody or musical phrase. This was cute.

Body-Hats (Part One) – I guess this is the working title track, which DU breaks down into three parts. For Part One, D-Flo hooks up a decent up-tempo backdrop that Shock-G, Hump, Money B and Saafir use to, abstractly, discuss all the threats (both physical and mental) the “body-hat” can protect you from. Or, as Shock says at the song’s close: “Barring abstinence, the Body-Hat is the best known protection against FADES” (which he explained on “Doo Woo You” is an acronym for Falsely Acquired Diluted Education Syndrome”). The song is decent enough, I guess.

Dope-A-Delic (Do-U-B-Leeve-In-D-Flo?) – This is the second of three bonus songs only included on the CD format of The Body-Hat Syndrome. Clee and Humpty, tag-team the mic as they fire shots at all the “bland” emcees and “weak rookie rappers”. The duo actually sounds okay, but the instrumental lacks energy.

Intermission – Quick mash-up of short clips taken from the DU catalog.

Wussup Wit The Luv – It’s rare for Digital Underground to get serious on a record. Matter of fact, up to this point in their career the only other serious record I can recall them being a part of was “All In The Same Gang” as part of the West Coast Rap All-Stars (remember that one?). On this song Shock-G, Money B, Clee and 2pac get very serious as they address the many evils that exist in this world and call for more love amongst humanity. Shock-G does provide one unintentional moment of comic relief when he sings “One brother speaks in African”, which is hi-larious to me, considering African is a person’s descent not a language. But I digress. I like the song’s sentiment and I “luv” the laid back piano chords and melancholy vibe of the production.

digital Lover –  Not sure why DU decided to spell “digital” in the song title with a lowercase “d”. Typo or intentional? I guess it’s one of those mysteries the world will never know. Or someone could just ask Shock-G. When I first saw the song title, I thought “digital” was going to be a double entendre for the first word in the group’s name and as in fingers…catch my drift. The album insert (no pun intended) has an illustration of what appears to be a female robot bent over with an arrow labeled “enter here” pointed between her legs and the title “digital lover (NO CONDOMS NECESSARY)” above the drawing. So, maybe I was wrong on both ends. But who cares? The song is trash.

Carry The Way (Along Time) – DU blows their own horns on this one, as they pay homage to their contribution to hip-hop. Shock-G, Clee, Saafir and Money B all take turns patting themselves on the back. No one’s lyrics are memorable and the instrumental is so drowsy and terrible I don’t even think the god Rakim could have sparked my interest rapping over it.

Body-Hats (Part Two) – DU picks up right where they left off with Part One, bringing back the same instrumental, as the same parties from the first go round discuss the same damn thing.

Circus Entrance – Short skit that sets up the next song…

Jerkit Circus – Money B, Humpty and Shock-G annoyingly scream their way through most of this ode to masturbation. And if our hosts weren’t annoying enough, the garbage D-Flo instrumental only makes things worse. Geez…I’ve never heard anyone make jackin’ off sound so miserable.

Circus Exit (The After Nut) – An unnecessary interlude to wrap up the disaster that was “Jerkit Circus”.

Shake & Bake – More juvenile sex rhymes from Humpty over a mediocre funk track.

Body Hats (Part Three) – Same thing as Part One and Two, but only Shock and Humpty show up for this one.

Do You Like It Dirty? – For this one Shock-G and Humpty take turns on the mic, and I believe on the same chick. Years before “eating someone’s groceries” became a “thing” in hip-hop, Shock and Hump give intimate details on a freak that likes to do more than just toss their salads. Their rhymes are mildly entertaining, but the instrumental is super trash.

Bran Nu Sweat This Beat – DU brings back the instrumental from “Bran Nu Swetta” for this quick thirty-second interlude.

Wheee! – The final song on The Body-Hat Syndrome (at least on the CD format…this is the third of the three bonus songs only included on the CD) finds Shock-G (well, it starts off as Shock-G, but by the middle of both his verses he transforms into Humpty without notice), Money B, Clee and Schmoovy-Schmoov living their best lives just having good old fashion care-free fun. The heavy drums and the melodic piano chords help create the perfect atmosphere for their playful-unformatted-nonsensical rhymes. This is probably my favorite song on The Body-Hat Syndrome. Great way to end the album.

The Body-Hat Syndrome is definitely not Digital Underground’s best body (no pun intended) of work. At twenty tracks (at least the CD format), its way too long, and with most of the songs being sub par (both lyrically and production wise) with juvenile content, it makes an already lengthy project even more testing on the attention span. There are a handful of dope songs sprinkled in to the pot, but not enough to say The Body-Hat Syndrome is a good project. This definitely would have worked better as an EP.

-Deedub

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Mellow Man Ace – The Brother With Two Tongues (June 2, 1992)

Part two of my Mellow Man Ace posts. Enjoy.

What’s It Take To Pull A Hottie (Like You)? – Mellow Man Ace kicks off The Brother With Two Tongues with a heavily r&b flavored track, and sounds thirsty as a man with an empty canteen walking through the Atacama Desert, as he tries to put together the perfect formula to get an extremely hot female to go out with him. Bronek Wroblewski (which may be the illest name in the history of the world) gets credit for the bootleg New Jack Swingish instrumental. The song is pretty cheesy, but I can’t stop singing the catchy hook.

Brother With Two Tongues – Julio G (not to be confused with Mellow Man Ace’s other production partner, Tony G) steers things back to more of a hip-hop feel for the title track. Mellow Man Ace uses the decent instrumental to spit more of the Spanglish rhyme styling that he created. I’m not crazy about this song, but it wasn’t terrible.

Linda – Julio G borrows from the often used Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” for the instrumental. Ace uses it to sing praises to the woman who has him open for the moment, Linda. Every time I hear Ace say “Linda” (with his accent its pronounced “Leenda”), I immediately thank about that viral YouTube video from a few years ago of the little boy telling his mom “Leenda, you’re not listening”. Oh yeah, back to the song. It sucked.

Babalu Bad Boy – DJ Muggs gets his only production credit on The Brother With Two Tongues on this one. He builds his instrumental around a loop from Herbie Hancock’s “Fat Mama” (that you’ve heard before: see 2pac’s “If My Homies Call” and Chi-Ali’s “Step Up”) and turns it into an enjoyable backdrop, while our host speaks about his humble beginnings and boasts about his Cuban coolness. This was solid.

Gettin’ Funky In The Joint – Ace never finds his footing on Julio G’s horrible instrumental. Wait. Did Ace just say “I come off like niggas”? What does that even mean?

Hypest From Cypress – Cipher time! Ace invites Krazy D, Tomahawk Funk from Funkdoobiest (credit as “Chief T” in the liner notes) and his big bro, Sen Dog (from Cypress Hill) to join him on this one, as they rep for their hood. On paper, it doesn’t sound like an impressive combination: Mellow Man Ace, a relative unknown (in Krazy D) and two sidekicks in their respective bands. But don’t sleep. Everyone puts in work on this one (even though Sen Dog regurgitates most of his verse from “Shoot ‘Em Up”), with the exception of Ace, who sounds way to laxed compared to his focused and hungry compadres. Julio G lays down a raw and funky backdrop that satisfies the rumblings in the bellies of Ace’s guests. This song should have wrapped after Ace’s verse. Instead, Ace and his crew go old school, rhyming over a simple clap, but none of them come close to recapturing the magic they had on Julio G’s instrumental.

Funky Muneca – By this point it’s clear that Mellow Man Ace enjoys combining Spanish words with English words for his song titles. In this case, he combines “Funky” with “Muneca”, which is a term of endearment for a woman you’re fond of (it translates to “doll” or “dollish”). Yeah, I think the song title is pretty corny too, but the song is even worst. The instrumental is the audio equivalent of faucet water (without a filter) and Ace’s rhymes are arguably cornier than the hook and the song title combined.

Boulevard Nights – The Baker Boyz and Julio G collab to create the dark backdrop,  underlined by a mischievous rumbling bass line. MMA uses it to discuss what goes down at night on the streets of L.A., which pretty much doesn’t go beyond partying, chasing girls, flossing and more partying. In his final verse, Ace says: “So many hotties in the house if you were sick you’d wanna rape ’em, but keep it cool homeboy and um, video tape ’em”. This line sounds a little creepy (especially the part about rape), and if The Brother With Two Tongues was released in 2018, I’m sure Capitol would have been forced to pull it off the album. All in all, this was a decent listen.

Me La Pelas – “Me La Pelas” is Spanish for “suck my dick”. Ace starts the song off by saying this is part two of “Mas Pingon” (which is Spanish for “Go Fuck Yourself”) from Escape From Havana. Our host spits most of the song in Spanish with a muffled effect on his mic that makes it sound like he recorded this in his basement on a karaoke machine. Speaking of basements, Julio G’s instrumental has a dusty quality to it, and it’s actually pretty decent. But if I had to pick between this and “Mas Pingon”, I’m rollin’ with the latter. What? You don’t agree? Me la pelas!!!

Ricky Ricardo of Rap – The song sounds just as corny as the title reads.

Welcome To My Groove –  Tony G gets his only production credit of the evening, and it happens to be a house beat that MMA uses to drop pick up lines over. Ace sounds corny, the female vocalist (credit as “Jeaneete” in the liner notes) on the hook sounds godawful, but I kind of enjoyed Tony G’s instrumental, even though I feel like I shouldn’t.

Mellow Says Hello – MMA gives his shoutouts over a Julio G produced instrumental that recycles the same Lowell Fulson “Tramp” loop that Muggs used for “How I Could Just Kill A Man”. Since Muggs adds some adlibs to this song, I’m sure he gave Julio his blessings for the blatant jack.

There is a hidden track on the cd version of The Brother With Two Tongues, which apparently is titled “Time To Get Busy, Busy”. Ace sounds a lot more animated that anything else on the album, and strangely sounds like a mixture of Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from Lost Boyz. This song is proof that animation doesn’t always equate to entertaining.

Mellow Man Ace didn’t sound spectacular on Escape From Havana, but he did have some solid moments. And even though the majority of the production wasn’t great, it still felt like the album’s foundation was cemented in hip-hop. On The Brother With Two Tongues, Ace sounds like a man struggling to find his identity throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, all in the name of trying to make a hit (bars!). While he does have some true blue hip-hop songs, he has just as many experimental ones, as he tries his hand in r&b (“What’s It Take To Pull A Hottie (Like You)?”), house (“Welcome To My Groove”), intentional pop (“Linda”) and comedy (“Ricky Ricardo of Rap”). Needless to say The Brother With Two Tongues fails, and would have been more suitably named The Brother With Multiple Personalities.

-Deebub

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