Facemob – The Other Side Of The Law (August 7, 1996)

Facemob was a group put together by Scarface, which consisted of Devin The Dude, 350, DMG (who made his debut on “You Don’t Hear Me Doe” from Scarface’s The World Is Yours album), Sha-Riza, and Smit-D. As a collective they would make their unofficial debut on Scarface’s “Amongst The Walking Dead” from the Walking Dead Soundtrack in 1995, sparking a short soundtrack circuit run with songs featured on the soundtracks for Tales From The Hood, Original Gangstas, and High School High. These songs would make great promotional tools for the group’s debut album, The Other Side Of The Law, released in August of 1996 on Rap-A-Lot Records.

Scarface would not only be responsible for forming the group that he would narcissistically name after himself, but he and longtime Rap-A-Lot affiliate producer, Mike Dean, would handle most of the production on The Other Side, with N.O. Joe and a few others contributing sonically as well. The album would peak at 51 on the Billboard 200 and 6 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts.

I didn’t know this album existed until I found it staring at me in the used CD bins at a local record store a couple of months ago. Being the moderate Scarface fan that I am, I figured I’d shell out a few dollars in hopes of discovering some fire music that I missed back then, and hopefully has maintained its flame.

Intro – The album begins with a beautifully somber piano riff, punctuated by a demonically distorted male voice saying “And now…the end begins.” Then a single gunshot is fired to snap you out of the trance the tender piano chords might have lulled you into.

In The Flesh – Face hooks up a stripped-down backdrop with mystically dark undertones, as 350, Smit-D (who made the album cover shoot but subsequently got locked up and couldn’t write his own shoutouts for the liner notes. Dat Nigga Noriega (not to be confused with Nore from Capone-N-Noreaga), is credited with writing them on “behalf of Smit-D”), and DMG each gets off a verse filled with street and gangsta rhetoric. I was hoping to hear a verse from Scarface, but he only assists with the hook, adding a few adlibs. Nevertheless, all three Mob members sound serviceable with DMG sounding the strongest, but I may be a little biased since we were both born and raised in the Twin Cities area.

Bank Robbery – As the title suggests, 350, Sha-Riza, DMG, Devin The Dude, and his Uncle Eddie are out to rob a bank blind after 350 lets Devin know she has an inside connect at the bank. The Mob verbally illustrates the entire scheme and execution in great detail, and it’s all backed by Face and Mike Dean’s slow-rolling cinematic thriller, which works as the perfect accomplice for our hosts’ heist. Well played, Facemob.

Da Coldest – The Scarface/Mike Dean produced backdrop sounds like the energetic twin to the instrumental on the previous track. Smit-D, DMG, and Sha-Riza take turns laying their dicks on the table as they each claim to be the illest on the mic, while Face adds a few adlibs and co-signs for the trio’s cappin’. I did enjoy portions of Sha and DMG’s verses (specifically when they discuss their humble beginnings in the rap game), but neither one is even the coldest in Facemob.

Millions – I hate everything about this song. DMG, Smit-D, and Sha all spit verses that attempt to justify selling death (aka drugs) to their own community, simply because they want to get rich. Then Face and Devin provide a “woe is me” hook that almost feels like an attempt to paint their dope boy friends as the victims and to conjure up sympathy for their selfish acts: “And even though you say I’m killin’ off your children, I’m just a nigga hustlin’, tryna make a million” (to add insult to injury, Devin’s high-pitched squeaky singing is annoying as shit). And all this bullshit is wrapped up in a contrived sappy instrumental that makes me want to puke. 350 was wise to steer completely clear of this mess.

Tales From Tha Hood – N.O. Joe gets his lone production credit of the night with this one (with Mike Dean receiving a co-credit), dropping an epic southern-fried monster on the Mob. Speaking of the Mob, the Face of it (pun intended) starts this killing spree off right, rendering his lone verse of the album, followed by verses from an uncredited special guest (I think his name is Warren Lee) and DMG. The latter two’s murderous rhymes pale in comparison to Face’s vividly violent verse, which left me wishing this was a Scarface solo joint.

Respect Rude – After all the gloom and doom that covered the first half of The Other Side, Face brings some levity to the album with this mid-tempo bop with hop. Smit-D, DMG (who takes the listener on a verbal ride through the Minneapolis and St. Paul hoods…yes, hoods do exist in Minnesota), and 350 share this track with middling results (I realize that I may have only found DMG’s verse interesting because I’m familiar with the areas he described. So, I completely understand if no one else gives a shit about his verse). And I never need to hear Devin attempt to reggae chant again.

Stay True – Devin The Dude and 350 tag team the mic, vowing to stay true to themselves despite their naysayers. Devin shines the brightest as he gets off some slick lines and provides a smooth hook. But it’s the bluesy groove, equipped with sexy wah-wah guitar licks and a persistent bass line, that makes this thang go.

The Other Side – Since I found a video for this song on the internet, I’ll assume this title track was a single released from the album. It starts out sounding like it’s going to be a Smit-D solo joint, as he spews more mediocre criminal vernacular on the song’s first two verses. Then Devin swoops in for the third verse and gets off some introspective bars to bring some balance. I enjoyed the polished instrumental (credited to Michael Poye and Uncle Eddie), and even though I don’t know what Smit-D is saying on the hook, it’s catchy.

Black Woman – The record begins with 350 prefacing that this song is not about Black women but dedicated to “fakes ass hoes,” which naturally left me wondering why you wouldn’t just title the song “Fake Ass Hoes” instead of “Black Woman.” Anyhoo…Smit-D and Devin use this one to vent about a few of the ladies they deal with, calling out some of their toxic traits. Smit-D offers up another subpar performance and I’m not a fan of the drowsy instrumental that sounds like it’s intoxicated on lean. But Devin delivers a hi-larious verse as he re-enacts his perspective of coming home late from the studio and being confronted by his suspicious woman; and his song-closing rant literally makes me lol every time I listen to this song.

Rivals – This song was originally released on the Original Gangstas Soundtrack. Everyone except for Sha-Riza (who oddly went MIA after “Millions”) participates in this ode to their enemies, and everything about this record was forgettable.

Outro – The album comes full circle, ending exactly how it started.

I’ll be honest. After my first few listens to The Other Side Of The Law, I was a little disappointed that Scarface didn’t appear on more of the album’s tracks. Then after a few more listens, I became really disappointed that Scarface didn’t appear on more of the album’s tracks. That’s not to say there aren’t any talented rappers in the Facemob collective. Devin The Dude is a rapper that I’ve casually watched from a distance and enjoyed on the handful of songs I’ve heard from him before listening to The Other Side; enough to make me buy a handful of his solo albums that I still haven’t listened to. Devin delivers on most of his contributions to The Other Side, but after him, the quality of the lyrical output on the album begins to sag heavily. Sha-Riza seems to be a competent emcee, but he’s absent for most of the album, including the album cover; and as much as I appreciate DMG proudly reppin’ for Minnesota, his average abilities aren’t strong enough to consistently entertain on The Other Side. 350 and Smit-D are the obvious weak links, and their mediocre hardcore posturing didn’t move me in the slightest.

While the emceeing on The Other Side is a bit sluggish, Face and Mike Dean put their best foot (or feet) forward, providing a cohesive batch of overall quality instrumentals to support the Mob’s underwhelming underworld content. Devin and the production staff don’t completely cover the blemishes left by the rest of the Mob’s lackluster performance, but they sure make the bitch look presentable.


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Too Short – Gettin’ It (Album Number Ten) – May 21, 1996

When it comes to commercial success, Too Short might have the most understated commercially successful run in hip-hop history. After selling God knows how many copies of numerous underground tapes and his first three albums (Don’t Stop Rappin’, Players, and Raw, Uncut & X-Rated, released on the Oakland-based independent label, 75 Girls) out of the trunk of his car, Too Short’s independent success would garner attention from the major labels who would soon come looking to cash in on his potential. Too Short would sign with Jive/RCA in 1987 and by the beginning of 1996 he would have one gold-selling album under his belt (his 1987 major label debut, Born To Mack) and four consecutive platinum-selling albums (Life Is…Too Short, Short Dog’s In The House, Shorty The Pimp, and Get In Where You Fit In) with a fifth to later join the club (his 1995 album, Cocktails would become platinum certified at the beginning of 1997). Too Short would return in May of ‘96 to release his tenth album, Gettin’ It (Album Number Ten).

Gettin’ It would feature production from a few of Short’s longtime collaborators and Dangerous Crew members, Ant Banks and Shorty B, along with a few other names that will discuss in a bit. The album would peak at number three on the Billboard Top 200, and even though Short would only release one single from the album, Gettin’ It would go on to become Too Short’s sixth consecutive platinum-selling album and his last. As the new millennium began, Short’s sales begin to wane, as only two of the eleven solo albums he released between 1999 and to date have received RIAA certifications.

I stopped buying Too Short albums after Get In Where You Fit In. That is until I recently found a used CD copy of Gettin’ It and bought it out of curiosity and to hear what a Too Short album sounded like since I last listened to one. This review marks my first time listening to the album in its entirety, but two things I’m sure of: they’ll be a massive amount of pimp talk and a whole lot of “beaatches” thrown around.

Gettin’ It – There’s nothing like starting an album with the title track, which in this case also happens to be the lead single. Shorty B, George Clinton and his legendary Parliament-Funkadelic band build a funky rendition around a portion of a former Funkadelic band member, Bootsy Collins’ classic record, “I’d Rather Be With You.” Too Short uses the smooth funk groove to motivate the listener to go out and get what’s rightfully theirs (i.e., money, a good lawyer, an education (ironically, Short brags about being a “young millionaire with no high school diploma” just a few bars later), out of jail, or whatever else your personal goal may be), or as G. Clinton and the ladies sensually sum up on the catchy hook: “You should be gettin’ it…gettin’ while the gettin’ is good.” The song ends with a completely random appearance from YZ reciting the hook from one of my favorite YZ joints (“So Far (The Ghetto’s Been Good To Me)).” Nevertheless, this was a superb way to kick off the album.

Survivin’ The Game – The mood quickly shifts to a more serious tone, thanks to Ant Banks’ troubled keyboard chords and weary-sounding synth samples. Short matches the pensive musical mood by discussing the dangers and consequences of living the street life, in hopes of deterring the listener from walking that risky path. A nice record that would have fit perfectly on a nineties hood movie soundtrack.

That’s Why – Too Short uses this one to address the rumors that he was forced to move out of his hometown of Oakland, and he fires shots at the Bay Area radio station, KMEL (whom he accuses of banning his music) and the Luniz, who fired the first shot on their single, “Playa Hata” from their debut album, Operation Stackola. Short makes it clear that it wasn’t his industry beefs and the bullets with his name on them that he humorously says he “never got to meet,” that made him leave his hometown and move to Atlanta, but claims it was his numerous warrants in the Town, along with the appeal of the Atlanta hosted Jack The Rapper hip-hop convention and fittingly, Freaknik. Ant Banks soundtracks Short’s adventures in relocating with a pretty solid instrumental if you can overlook the wonky synth noises sporadically placed throughout.

Bad Ways – Short Dog invites a few friends to join him on this one (Studd, Murda One, and Joe Riz), as all four parties take turns testifying about their bad habits and tendencies. Everyone involved turns in a competent believable verse, while Spearhead X (with co-credit going to The Soul Merchants and L-Rock) serves up a smooth groove accompanied by the soothing vocals of Sonji Mickey and a nameless male voice on the hook. No chaser required.

Fuck My Car – Not to be confused with UGK’s song with the same title that came out on their Ridin’ Dirty album a few months after Gettin’ It. Short spews tons of misogyny while accusing bitches, excuse me, women, of wanting him strictly for his money and material possessions, but mainly his fly ride (“I know you’re broke, fantasizing like Mariah, get a grip on my bumper, rub your clit on my tire, you can ride on the top, or wrap your legs around the frame, but if you get in this car, you gonna respect this game”). He also gets off one of the worst lines ever spat on a Jive recording: “You ain’t never gon’ stop my pimpin’ style, it’s like two plus two, can you figure it out? You say, ‘What for (four)?’ I say, ‘That’s right.’” Smh. MC Breed (rip) makes his first appearance of the evening, providing adlibs, a few bars, and the flat instrumental. I wasn’t crazy about UGK’s version, but I’d take it over this horrible record any day of the week.

Take My Bitch – Since Short is known for pimpin’ and often calling ladies “bitches” in his rhymes, the song title would lead you to believe this record is about pimpin’ bitches, excuse me, women. Instead, Short goes into his seldom-used metaphor bag, referring to his music as the bitch he’s pimpin’ and that you’re more than welcome to take: “From California all the way to Miami, I pimped that bitch and now the hoes can’t stand me, ’cause when I put my bitch on the streets, niggas rush to the store ’cause they love the beats, we gettin’ all the money, we cashin’ all the checks, I ain’t no fake pimp nigga, you can take my bitch.” It’s no “I Used To Love H.E.R.” or “I Gave You Power” but passable. I did thoroughly enjoy Colin Wolfe’s slow-rolling funk groove and rubbery bass line, though.

Buy You Some – Too Short invites MC Breed, Kool-Ace, and Erick Sermon (who recycles a portion of his verse from his Funk Master Flex’s 60 Minutes Of Funk: Vol. 1 freestyle) to join him on this regionally unbiased cipher session. The drums in the instrumental are nearly nonexistent, but the understated bass line and mysteriously grimy guitar licks are damn near hypnotic. This was originally released on The Dangerous Crew’s 1995 compilation album, Don’t Try This At Home, which only featured Short and Erick Sermon. No disrespect to Breed or Kool-Ace, but I prefer the original.

Pimp Me – This ain’t nothing but a Players Ball, y’all. Goldy and Kool-Ace join Too Short in spewing pimp propaganda, while senior pimps, Sir Captain and Sir Charles add some humorous pimp dialogue in between verses and sound like the epitome of catdaddies in the process. DJ Flash and Shorty B are credited with the warm banger, as Real Tight and Joi Hunter sing on the hook adding some extra sauce to the track with their vocals.

Baby D – Short Dog clears the way for an even shorter dog, his ten-year-old apprentice, Baby D. It’s pretty obvious that Too Short penned Baby D rhymes, whom I’d be willing to bet is the son of a mom that gave Short some box with the promise he’d let her baby spit on a record. Other than the slipper wah-wah guitar licks in the instrumental (which I’m a sucker for), there’s not much to see here, folks.

Nasty Rhymes – This one opens with a couple of singing ladies (Agony and Wendie Rice) asking Short why he objectifies women in his dirty raps, which is also the song’s hook. Too Short never offers a proper answer to the question, but rebuttals with three verses filled with more misogyny and objectification (this might also be the first record that a rapper admitted to enjoying getting his ass eaten, long before it became a trend in hip-hop. If I’m wrong, I’m sure one of you will correct me in the comments). The track is backed by Colin Wolfe’s watery groove that makes me want to bust out in the running man every time I hear it.

Never Talk Down – Much like 8Ball & MJG, Rappin’ 4 Tay is one of those artists whose music I never got around to diving into, but every time I hear him cameo on someone else’s record, he impresses and makes me want to start digging into his back catalog. Then time passes, and I forget about doing so until the next time I hear him make a dope guest appearance and the cycle continues. 4-Tay does it again on this one, delivering a couple of calmly confident verses with his soft-spoken vocal tone, as he joins Short and Breed in warning all player haters to watch their mouths when talking about a true player over Shorty B’s lively drums and an ill bass guitar riff.

I Must Confess – This is probably the closes you’ll ever get to hearing a love song from Too Short. The pimp has finally met his match, as a sexy young tender with amazing vagina has him whipped and wide open, gladly playing the side dude role and graphically detailing their sexual exploits: “I can’t sleep at night, you always keep me up, suckin on my dick, let me deep in them guts, I can’t stop fuckin you, runnin’ all up in you, I know you got a nigga, but you still know what to do, you never hold back, never act shy, make it look so good I never close my eyes, I like the way your titties shake when you’re ridin’ me, you take it out lick it and say put it back inside me.” Short’s verbal porn is backed by more excellent funk instrumentation, which includes seductive guitar riffs and dope drum rolls (courtesy of Shorty B), and his friends (Real Tight, Jalah, and Shorty B) co-sign his sentiments with a little harmony, culminating in a catchy hook. Much like Short’s sunshine-boxed lady friend, this record is also addictive.

So Watcha Sayin’ – Too Short uses this one to get a few things off his chest, as he discusses his possible retirement, his legacy in hip-hop, and refers to himself as the Kareem Abdul-Jabber of rap who will willingly pass the torch whenever the next Lebron James shows up. The mellow backdrop (laced with a sample of females saying his trademark “beaatch!”) is perfect for Short’s reflective words, and we get to hear more slippery wah-wah guitars.

I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body) – The album ends with a full circle moment. It began with an incredible funk groove courtesy of George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic band, and they return to close things out with an even stankier mash-up. The band slaps the listener across the face with seven and a half minutes of soulful sonics intertwined with a P-Funk groove so funky you’ll screw your face like you smell shit on your upper lip. A great way to close the album out, and I’d be scared to meet the woman and the body that inspired this level of funk.

Too Short’s longevity in the rap game is proof that sometimes less is more. Short never dazzled with a flashy flow and delivery or hit you with complex rhymes and mind-blowing content. Instead, you could always rely on getting relatively simple rhymes drenched in misogyny, delivered through his straightforward flow and never changing monotone vocal tone. And that is exactly what you get on…Gettin’ It.

Too Short’s rhymes may be elementary, but the bluntness and honesty in them are what sell them and makes them appealing. But even more appealing than Too Short’s rhymes on Gettin’ It is the production. Overall, the music sounds more layered than his previous albums, and the heavy dosage of live funk instrumentation will seduce your eardrums, resulting in eargasms from the handful of phenomenal jam sessions. As always, Too Short sprinkles a little consciousness into his big bowl of ratchetness, almost as an offering to cleanse his soul from the abundance of dirty raps he spews. There are a couple of duds on Gettin’ It, but overall, it’s an entertaining listen that has aged well.

Gettin’ It finds Too Short at a crossroad. After dropping ten albums in thirteen years, the Oakland native was contemplating permanently hanging up his microphone and finally resting his strong pimp hand. I’m sure the industry left him a little jaded, and as he expresses on “So Watcha Sayin?,” he felt underappreciated and misunderstood. And I’m sure he was also struggling with the idea of not having anything left to rap about, as there are only so many ways you can rap about “pimpin’ a bitch.” But in hindsight, Too Short’s legendary career was just getting started, as he’s still releasing music nearly thirty years later. Once again proving that time is truly illmatic…beaatch!


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Kris Kross – Young, Rich & Dangerous (January 9, 1996)

1996 is coming to an end here at TimeIsIllmatic. The next three reviews are ‘96 album releases that I added to my collection just in the past few months. Hope you enjoy the read!

Kris Kross became a pop phenomenon when they exploded on the scene in 1992 with their smash hit crossover single, “Jump.” The single would earn a platinum plaque and help propel Jermaine Dupri’s backward clothes-wearing teenage protégés’ debut album, Totally Krossed Out, to multi-platinum success. The Krises would follow up Totally Krossed Out in ‘93 with Da Bomb, and while there were a couple of bright moments on the album (mainly, my favorite Kris Kross song of all time, “Alright”), I thought it was a pretty underwhelming outing for the Atlanta-based duo. Regardless of my thoughts or the album’s quality, it would become Kris Kross’ second consecutive platinum-selling album, but disappointing sales results compared to their debut. After a nearly three-year hiatus, Kris Kross would return at the beginning of ‘96 with their third release and the subject of this post, Young, Rich & Dangerous.

Like their first two albums, Jermaine Dupri would handle all the production on YR&D and he would be responsible for penning most of KK’s bars. YR&D’s lead single would earn Kris Kross another gold plaque, as would the album. While a gold-selling album for most hip-hop acts would be deemed a success, for Kris Kross, coming off back-to-back platinum-selling albums, it was a commercial failure and would be the last album we would get from the teenage darlings.

I stopped following Kris Kross after Da Bomb album, but I bought a copy of YR&D a few months ago on the strength of a recommendation/request of one of my loyal readers. What up Miami Will? Just know your credibility is riding on this one, sir.

Continue to rest easy, Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly.

Some Cut Up – The opening track features JD interpolating Kleeer’s “Intimate Connection” to create a party atmosphere for KK, who goes into Snoop Dogg-lite mode, flossin’, frontin’, and ultimately trying to get some young tender back to the crib for some action, while Trey Lorenz (remember him?) drops in to sing (or speak) a word or two on the song’s refrain. At a minute and forty-five-second run time, I’m not sure if this is supposed to be an intro or an actual song. Either way, it’s an odd way to start an album, but strangely, it grows on me with each listen.

When The Homies Show Up – This skit has Kris Kross and their homies plotting to bring some girls (aka “cut-up”) over to Mac Daddy’s house since his mom is out of town. It sets up the next song and it’s also the first time Kris Kross refers to themselves as “C-Connection,” which wouldn’t have been a bad group name to change to if they kept making music as they got older.

Tonite’s Tha Night – This was the lead single from YR&D. As mentioned during the previous skit, Mac Daddy’s mom is out of town and he’s got the house to himself (a house he probably paid for), making for the perfect opportunity for he, Daddy Mac, excuse me, Kris Terry, and the homies to throw a party and take part in all types of drunkenness and debauchery. JD borrows from Faze-O’s “Riding High” to back KK’s turn-up rhymes, carrying over the party vibes from the opening track. It’s a fluffy record that you can easily vibe to, but Trey Lorenz singing on the hook and adlibs is so awful the vibe almost flatlines.

Interview – This skit finds Kris Kross speaking with a journalist and explaining the meaning and reason for the album title, which bleeds into the next song.

Young, Rich And Dangerous – JD puts together a slick groove with a serious feel for the title track, as KK take turns testifying how their success in music allowed them to live a more comfortable and lavished lifestyle (a pet peeve of mine: when people (*cough* Mac Daddy) say things like “my life did a three-sixty,” when they really mean “one-eighty,” because a three-sixty would put you right back where you started). Da Brat co-signs for her new money teenage compadres on the hook and the hip-hop poet laureate from the Dungeon Family, Big Rube, closes the song with one of his signature insightful spoken word poems. I enjoyed this one.

Live And Die For Hip-Hop – Kris Kross hosts this So-So Def cipher session, as Da Brat, JD, and newcomer, Mr. Black, take turns talkin’ shit and Aaliyah (rip) stops by to sprinkle the record with adlibs and sing a ten-second bridge, sounding nothing like I remember her sounding on her own joints, which is not a complaint. All parties involved put their best foot forward with Da Brat easily shining the brightest, but its JD’s simple but marvelously hypnotic flip of Regina Belle’s “Baby Come To Me” that makes this record irresistible and a great choice for the album’s second single.

Money, Power And Fame (Three Thangs Thats Necessities) – This is one of two songs on YR&D that JD loosened the reins and let the duo write their own rhymes. KK gives us more Snoop Dogg-lite, which makes Kris Terry’s accusation that “niggas be tryna steal my style like it was a recipe” laughable. But even more laughable was Mr. Dupri’s reimagining of the instrumental for LL’s “I Need Love.”

It’s A Group Thang – A quick skit that sets up the next song. Is that Kandi Burruss from Xscape playing the role of Kris Kross’ super submissive cut-up?

Mackin’ Ain’t Easy – Mr. Black makes his second appearance of the evening, joining the Macs as they take part in some good old fashion pimpin’ and mackin’. You’ll quickly forget all the generic misogyny spewed in this song, but JD’s mellow melodic soul soothing backdrop will keep you coming back for more.

Da Streets Ain’t Right – This is easily the most gangsta record in Kris Kross’ catalog, yet not gangsta at all. Both Krises share stories about being outside, very high profile and falling victim to robbery by street wolves. I’m sure both stories are fictional, but I still found it amusing that while they claim to “stay strapped” on the hook, both parties were heatless when the wolves came to get ‘em. JD builds the backdrop around a loop of Biggie’s “Warning” (he also includes a clever soundbite from the same record), turning it into a pleasant banger that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Hey Sexy – Can I please get a bottle of water to wash down this corn?

Tonite’s Tha Night (Remix) – I definitely prefer the “Riding High” backed instrumental to the drab and empty feel of this remix. The Dr. Dre vocal snippet on the hook was a nice added touch, though. This song is followed by a quick snippet of the title track to end the album.

The musical maturation of Kris Kross from Totally Krossed Out to Young, Rich & Dangerous is pretty interesting. In just a matter of four years, the duo would go from pipsqueak-voiced teens wearing their jerseys and jeans backward, rapping about jumping and missing school buses to young men with post-puberty vocal tones carrying guns, driving fancy cars, getting drunk, chasing women, all while wearing their clothing the way the designer intended. It’s also a bit of an enigma (shoutout to Keith Murray) how Kris Kross went from setting trends on their first album to heavily following them on YR&D, yet the music on the latter has aged better and is much more enjoyable than the former.

At twelve tracks (two of the tracks being interludes and then a remix tacked on at the end) and a thirty-six-minute runtime, YR&D feels more like an EP than a full-length album, which I have no problem with (The older I get the more I subscribe to the theory that less is more, or at least less is easier to tolerate). On YR&D The Krises’ rhymes are drenched in materialism and misogyny with most of it sounding unbelievably and inauthentic. Nevertheless, most of JD’s production sounds great, making Kris Kross’ cap-filled content easier to digest.

On the title track, Chris Terry raps “You can’t predict the future without mentioning me.” Unfortunately, there would be no future for Kris Kross, as YR&D would mark the end of the duo’s brief run, but at least they saved their best for last. And one can’t help but wonder if being young and rich contributed to the dangers that would lead to Mac Daddy’s tragic end.


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Dynamic Twins – Above The Ground (1996)

I’ve been covering a whole lot of Christian rap this past month that I’m sure most of you could care less about. Thanks for sticking with me through it regardless, and rest assured that more secular reviews are right around the corner…you little heathens.

The Dynamic Twins were a Christian rap duo comprised of the Bronx-born, California transplant identical twin brothers, Noel and Robbie Arthurton. The last and first time we checked in with them was on their 1991 debut album, Word 2 The Wize, which was a train wreck, despite Sup The Chemist doing everything in his production power to make it work. As I mentioned in my W2TW review, Sup’s involvement with the project was the main reason I bought the album. The fledgling Urban Christian music label, Brainstorm (once the label home to other Christian rap groups like SFC and Freedom Of Soul) on which W2TW was released, must have really believed in the Dynamic Twins, as they would release two more albums on the imprint, No Room 2 Breathe in 1993, and 40 Days In The Wilderness (which I think I owned on cassette back in the early 2000s) in ‘95. Brothers Arthurton would part ways with Brainstorm after 40 Days, beginning the next chapter of their career with Metro One (the same label that T-Bone would release his first three albums on), releasing their fourth album, Above The Ground, sometime in ‘96.

Sup The Chemist would have absolutely nothing to do with sculpting the sound of Above The Ground, as Noel and Robbie would handle the production for most of the album. Above The Ground would be the only album the Dynamic Twins would release on Metro One. Years later they would release music on their own label, ironically named, Above The Ground.

With Sup’s production absent from the album and me not being a fan of Dynamic Twins’ raps on their debut album, you might wonder why I even bought Above The Ground. I promise I’m not a glutton for punishment, but I am curious to hear if they improved since their debut. But the generic album cover artwork has me nervous about that.

Intro – The album begins with the most cliché regally triumphant sounding music that a Casio keyboard could conger up, followed by a single strike of thunder. This all sets the tone and mood for God the Father (not to be confused with the Godfather) to share a few words about blessings and curses, life and death, accepting his son, Jesus, as your personal Lord and Savior and if you reject him, prepare yourself to eternally swim in a lake of fire. The Father ends his short soliloquy by randomly shouting out two of his selected servants, yes, you guessed it, the Dynamic Twins, followed by the barest and most basic drumbeat ever created to close out this asinine intro that doesn’t even exist according to the liner notes and the tracklist on the CD jewel case back panel.

H.G. Funk – The first song of the evening finds our hosts bringing the funk, fueled by the Holy Ghost. The duo takes turns rapping about the goodness of Jesus and the Holy Spirit over the competent G-Funk groove, while a Roger Troutman-inspired voice repeatedly tells us what he and DT want on the refrain. Noel and Robbie both sound like they’ve improved lyrically since W2TW, but the music overpowers the vocals, making it nearly impossible to understand all of their rhymes.

Ways Of Cain – The Brothers Arthurton build this song’s concept around the story of another brother duo, Cain and Abel. The twins use the story outlined in Genesis Chapter 4 to address the modern-day dilemma of jealousy and envy, two attributes that lead to brothers killing brothers, and not just brothers in the biological sense. Like the previous track, this one also suffers from poor mixing of the music with the vocals. But the menacing backdrop goes kind of hard.

Laughter & Tears – Noel and Robbie swap cautionary tales about a computer-savvy young man who chooses a life of crime over education and hard work (wait…was “computer-savvy” even a thing in ‘96?) and a straight-A female student whose one night of mischievousness turns into a teen pregnancy by a young man who gets the hell out of Dodge before the baby is even born. I like DT’s moral message, but the backing instrumental was boring as hell. No pun intended.

Ready Or Not – The Dynamic Twins profess their readiness to stand for Christ while patiently awaiting his return because if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. DT borrows a line from Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove” for the hook and the instrumental sounds like it was produced by Tinkerbell. Dead ass. It even samples the same chime that the Ring camera uses when it sends you a phone notification.

Relaxin’ – The Dynamic Twins use this one to stress (no pun intended) the importance of getting rest and spending leisure time with family and friends. When Brothers Arthurton aren’t on the road rappin’ for Jesus and trying to save souls, they don’t waste their downtime on broads, blunts, and brew like a lot of their secular contemporaries. Instead, you can catch them spending time with their wives, eating barbecue, sippin’ Arny Palmers, playing basketball, chillin’ at the beach, watching sunsets, and capping the day off by watching their man, Rocket Ismail (who still played for the Raiders at the time) play on Monday Night Football (the Dynamic Twins actually made an album with Rocket that I found a few months back while rummaging through the used CD bins at one of my spots). The chill summertime-ready vibes in the instrumental, along with the soothing vocals of Melissa Untalon on the hook will definitely put you in a mood to unwind and enjoy life.

The Blood Cries – DT uses this one to address the issues of violence and race relations in America, hoping for the day that we can all come together and live as God’s children in peace and unity (twenty-seven years later and we’re still waiting). The lyrics for this song are the lone song lyrics written in the album liner notes, which made me wonder why they didn’t put the title track lyrics in the liner notes, but whatever. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s not a terrible record, either.

Little Robert Anthem – Our hosts step aside to let Little Robert get off a quick verse dedicated to the non-believers, where the self-proclaimed “Christian criminal” is “eatin’ demons up just like mojos” and tying up the devil like laces. Undersized Bob’s performance is amateurish at best and the sleepy drums and drowsy guitar licks that back him don’t help matters.

Above The Ground – The title track finds our hosts sharing an inspirational message of being able to rise above and overcome anything life throws their way, through Christ Jesus, while Melissa Untalon returns to sing the hook. It’s a mid record with good messaging.

Dying To Live – This one begins with one of the twins gettin’ off a poem that sounds like something Oswald Bates from In Living Color wrote, while the other brother clears his throat and burps, rudely interrupting his twin’s random rambling (once the song begins, we find out that the seemingly random rambling is part of first brother’s verse). Then a pensive backdrop carried by ruggedly beautiful guitar licks is brought in, as Brothers Arthurton profess their willingness to live and die by the word of God aka the Bible, which also means dying to some of their fleshly urges. Again, the mixing makes it hard to follow their rhymes, but I did enjoy this instrumental.

I’ll Be There – The hook on this one reminds me of and makes me want to sing the refrain from Tony! Toni! Tone!’s “Whatever You Want,” which I’m sure DT’s hook was inspired by. But everything else about this record was extra uninteresting.

Critical Styles – The Dynamic Twins close out Above The Ground by inviting Soul Food Live to jump on a track that they’re also credited with producing. The raps are forgettable, but the sexy xylophone loops used in the instrumental are guaranteed to make you want to Samba, Cha Cha, Tango, Rumba, Bachata, or any other dance form that requires sultry hip movement.

As I briefly touched on during my write-up of LPG’s The Earth Worm, when it comes to Christian hip-hop, there are two types of rappers: Christian rappers and rappers who happen to be Christian. The rapper who happens to be Christian is the emcee who was writing rhymes and possibly making music, fully enthralled in the culture, long before he decided to walk with Jesus. The Christian rapper is the guy/gal who may have been a casual fan of the genre, but never seriously considered rapping until they came into the faith and saw it as a cool tool to witness and win souls for the kingdom. Generally, there’s a huge gap in the rhyme quality between a Christian rapper and a rapper who happens to be Christian, with the advantage heavily favoring the latter. The Dynamic Twins definitely favor the former.

The production on the Dynamic Twins’ debut album, W2TW, was decent, but it was the twins’ rhymes and mouthfuls of marbles that heavily hindered the project. On Above The Ground, the rhymes sound a little sharper and the marble count has decreased, but the mixing is a huge issue. For a large portion of the album the music floods out the Dynamic Twins marble-light monotone voices like God did the earth in the days of Noah. If you strain your ears, twist your head just right, and resist the urge to blink, you can understand about half of DT’s rhymes. I used that formula a lot while listening to this album throughout the past few weeks, but if you have to listen to music like that, are you really enjoying it?

Even if the Dynamic Twins were blessed enough to have the incomparable ear and hand of Dr. Dre mix and master Above The Ground, it still wouldn’t be a great album. There are a handful of solid instrumentals and some good messaging, but much of the music and the twins’ rhymes just aren’t…dynamic enough to hold the listener’s attention.


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T-Bone – Tha Hoodlum’s Testimony (1996)

By 1996, T-Bone was probably the biggest name in the Christian hip-hop subculture. He was kind of the Lecrae of his era, only on a much smaller scale, monetarily, commercially, and notoriety-wise. So, really, he was no Lecrae at all. But he was one of the CHH pioneers who helped pave the way for the Lecraes of the world to walk through doors that were once closed to Christian rappers. Unlike most Christian rappers whose Pharisee-like tendencies and self-righteousness kept them from working with secular artists, T-Bone was not afraid to step outside the church and jump on tracks with secular rappers (he’s rapped on tracks with Mr. Grimm, Mack-10, Chino XL, and I’ll never forget the time he out-rhymed KRS-One on his Spiritual Minded album), which is also a testament to his rapping ability. He had two fairly well-received albums under his belt (at least by the Christian community), Redeemed Hoodlum and Tha Life Of A Hoodlum, and 1996 would find him continuing the Hoodlum album theme, releasing his third project, Tha Hoodlum’s Testimony.

On T-Bone’s first two albums, Muffla (who was the last remaining original member of the production team, L.A. Posse) was the chief producer, with his partner and the other half of the new regime of L.A. Posse, Chase, receiving mostly co-credits on a handful of records. Sometime after the making of Tha Life Of A Hoodlum, Muffla and Chase would part ways, leaving Chase solely in the production driver’s seat for Tha Hoodlum’s Testimony. I have a sneaking suspicion that Muffla and Chase’s separation was over a money dispute, as T-Bone mentions during his shoutout to Chase in the liner notes that his friend had been “payahated” on for his past work. But I digress.

It’s been well over a decade since I listened to this hoodlum testify. Hopefully, his testimony holds up well in the court of time.

The Hoodlum’s IntroTestimony begins like a biopic movie. In his amazingly soothing voice, J. Curtis gives a great opening monologue that makes T-Bone sound more like a Marvel superhero than a rapper. The intriguing narration combined with the supporting somber score makes me want to run to the concession stand for an Icee and large popcorn. “Extra butter, please. And do y’all have Ranch seasoning?”

Straighten It Out – The first song of the evening is a remake of Latimore’s seventies classic of the same name (minus the “Let’s”). Chase and company (Chase on keyboards, Grant Nicholas on Fender Rhodes, Vincent Jefferson on bass, and Mr. Monologue, J. Curtis, jumps on guitar, and shows off his singing chops on the hook) recreate the bluesy deep funk groove, while Bone adapts a tone that falls somewhere in between saddened and disgusted, as he gets into his conscious bag, addressing some of the societal ills that affect the Black and Brown communities (i.e., homelessness, gangbangin’, violence, drugs, child abuse, and domestic violence), pointing to a combination of unity and Jesus as the solution. It was kind of strange to hear the album start on such a melancholic note, but still a dope record. And the jam session at the end of the song is ridiculously yummy.

Demon Executor – One of the complaints about T-Bone’s music through the years has been his obsession with killing demons. This is one of those tracks that finds our host “jumpin’ demons like a gang initiation” and eating “demons and beans on his plate for supper.” In the midst of slashing demons’ throats, he also manages to sneak in a quick jab at Mormons (“I ain’t into set trippin’, Blood or Crippin’, instead I’m into Mormon and Satanic Bible rippin’”). Ironically, as humorous as the whole “demon killer” shtick reads, Bone really sounds angry and focused on annihilating Satan and his imps on this record, completely selling it by rapping his ass off. Chase backs Bone’s bloody exploits with a blunted banger that’s guaranteed to make you Crip Walk, or at least try to.

Hurt & Pain – Chase lays down a bleak backdrop that Bone uses as a sounding board to voice his feelings of rejection, loneliness, and depression caused by shady friends, backstabbers, and bloodthirsty sharks, while he pleads for God to take away all his agony on the hook. I love when rappers are brave enough to get vulnerable on records like this. Because we all can relate to feeling like this at one point or another. And if you haven’t already, just keep on living.

09/19/94 – T-Bone and company reenact the beating and robbery that our host lived through on the date in the title. I can’t imagine acting out such a traumatizing experience, but whatever.

Tomorrow’s Not Promised – If the previous skit wasn’t enough to give you a visual of what happened to T-Bone on that fateful night in September, he raps about the events on this record, with intricate detail. I’m still baffled as to why he would just open his door all willy-nilly after hearing the doorbell ring at three in the morning, especially knowing that he lives in what he refers to as “killer Cali.” T-Bone’s storytelling will keep you intrigued each step of the way, and Chase’s drama-filled bass line and mischievous bells and whistles, along with the ominous choir chords on the refrain, make Bone’s story sound even more compelling.

Police Call – I’m assuming this voicemail message is related to one of the perpetrators that robbed and beat T-Bone to a bloody pulp on the previous song. I’m not sure what purpose it serves on the album. Maybe a receipt to prove the beating actually took place? Feels a little clout chasey if you ask me.

Keep On Praisin’ – After all the darkness that consumed the previous five tracks, we get a glimmer of light with this one. T-Bone vows to keep pressing on and serving Jesus, despite all the trials and tribulations life throws his way (he also acknowledges 2Pac’s death, which might make him the first to do so in a rhyme). Chase places a soft and pretty instrumental behind Bone’s encouraging words, and Steven Mosley adds a melodic hook to drive Bone’s determination home.

Playa Haters Interlude – A short skit where some of T-Bone’s haters get to sound off (“Chase being accused of having “Tonka Toys beats” was hi-larious).

Kill Tha Lies – T-Bone uses this track to address his haters and those talking ill of and spreading lies about the Boney Bone. As I mentioned during the previous post, the Tunnel Rats (specifically, LPG) fired indirect shots at T-Bone on the title track of Experience. T-Bone fires back, dedicating the second verse to the So-Cal Christian collective, subtly calling them out by name: “Now I’m back to set the record straight, for all them suckas that I know that wanted to player hate, talkin’ bout I bit this style, I took they style, plus I’m wack, but little rats always talk behind your back, it seems they always talkin’ prideful, when I’m the one in a Lexus still carrying ’round a Bible, I’m on my third LP…G, and I ain’t never gonna sellout like some of the rappers in the industry, always talkin’ about keepin’ it real, glorifying hip-hop tryna find mass appeal, What’s the deal? Is that why you got in the ministry, so you could talk about me and all of God’s wack emcees?” The song title’s also a light jab and a clever play on the title of the closing track on Experience, “Truth Hurts, Lies Kill.” Who would have thought that Christian rap beef could get so spicy? Chase’s laidback groove, complete with a trunk-rattling bass line, is perfectly compatible with Bone’s composed diatribe.

Puttin’ It Down – Bone keeps the same emcee energy from the previous track, spilling boastful battle-ready bars (touring on the Greyhound is crazy), and manages to take out a few demons along the way. Chase delivers again, this time with a pristine light-funk digitized banger that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Mi Familia – Bone continues to sharpen his acting skills in this skit that finds him crying with his mother as he tries to console her, while emotional piano chords play in the background. This leads into the next song…

Growin’ Up – Chase provides a clean bop for T-Bone to reminisce about his childhood, reflecting on some of the hardships that shaped his youth (i.e., getting in trouble at school, dealing with a drug-addicted sister and an incarcerated brother, and losing the family home to a house fire) and made him into the man he is today, or was in 1996. I like T-Bone’s message, but I’m completely in love with the tender guitar licks that J. Curtis laces the track with.

Flock Together – The song title is based on the old proverb “Birds of a feather flock together,” which is a fancy way of saying be careful of whom you choose to hang with. T-Bone’s rhymes don’t necessarily stick to the subject at hand, but he does entertain your ears with a swaggy rhyming style and delivery. But even more entertaining is the instrumentation, topped off with a tantalizing jazzy keyboard solo at the end that Thelonious Monk might even have approved of.

Ministry Vs Industry – T-Bone discusses his journey and experiences in the Christian rap game/business and challenges all other Christian emcees to examine and asks themselves what their purpose for rapping is as well (which is also another subtle jab at the Tunnel Rats). Bone’s interesting content is scored by a strong bop that leans heavily on its sturdy bass line.

Organized Rhyme – T-Bone mentioned them on a few different tracks early in the album, and we finally get to hear his Organized Rhyme Crew rap on this album closing posse joint. Mayhem, Maximillion, and Bone’s cousin, E-Dog (who made his introduction on “Pushin’ Up Daises” from Tha Life Of A Hoodlum), join our host, as all four rappers spit competent battle bars (that I’m sure were inspired by the Tunnel Rats feud) over a slick Chase production. It’s no “Head Banger” or “The Symphony,” but I still enjoyed it.

During the first two installments of T-Bone’s Hoodlum trilogy, it was very apparent that the Holy Ghost-filled Frisco emcee had talent. On both albums, Bone displayed his uncanny ability to successfully spit on any beat, no matter its pace, race, creed, color, or religion. But his obsession with demons and tendency to mimic other rappers’ styles, semi-sullied his polished and versatile flow and made his rhymes feel cartoonish at times. Apparently, the third time’s a charm, or three is the lucky number, or all praises due to the Holy Trinity…whatever triad you’d like to subscribe to, Bone seemed to have found his voice on Tha Hoodlum’s Testimony.

Throughout Testimony’s sixteen tracks, T-Bone showcases his rhyming skills and keeps the listener engaged, getting personal and vulnerable on tracks like “Hurt And Pain,” “Tomorrow’s Not Promised,” and “Growin’ Up.” His beef with the Tunnel Rats also appeared to have sparked his competitive side, as he raps with a chip on his shoulder, spewing boastful bars and taking shots at his rivals while silencing his naysayers on “Kill Tha Lies,” “Puttin’ It Down,” and “Organized Rhyme.” Thankfully, T-Bone keeps the demon murders and impersonations of your favorite rappers to a minimum, only catching a few demonic bodies along the way and occasionally getting into his Snoop and 2Pac bits. Testimony also finds Bone less focused on flaunting his faith than the first two albums, but even when he’s not wearing Jesus on his sleeve, J.C. is clearly the underlying theme of the album. On the production side, Chase gracefully steps up to the challenge of filling in for the absent Muffla, backing T-Bone’s sanctified raps with polished instrumentals that sound more layered and musical than his two previous albums, thanks largely to the lively instrumentation provided by Chase and his cast of musician friends.

T-Bone’s well-rounded emceeing paired with Chase’s quality production, easily makes Tha Hoodlum’s Testimony the strongest album in T-Bone’s Hoodlum trilogy. It’s also a strong testament that all gospel rap isn’t corny, and I’d be willing to testify that it could hang with some of your favorite secular rappers’ output of that era. Yeah, I said it.


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Tunnel Rats – Experience (1996)

The Tunnel Rats were a Southern California-based Christian collective of emcees and producers, whose crew name is cleverly derived from the special unit of American and allied soldiers who performed underground search and destroy missions during the Vietnam War. Led by LPG, the Tunnel Rats would make a strong impact on the Christian rap subculture, with its crew members releasing several albums from the mid-nineties through the early 2010s. And even though the Tunnel Rats walked with Jesus, I’m sure some of these dudes wouldn’t turn the other cheek when it came time to fight or battle and could bust most of your favorite rappers’ asses on the mic. The Tunnel Rats would officially kick things off in 1995 with releases from two of its founding acts, Peace 586 (The Risen Son) and LPG (The Earth Worm). After laying the TR foundation with these two quality albums, they would build on it the following year with the first Tunnel Rats collective project and the subject of today’s post, Experience.

Through the years, the Tunnel Rats’ roster has gone through several changes, removing and adding new members along the way. The Experience TR roster would include the underrated duo, LPG (Jurny and Theory aka Dax), Raphi, Zane, and the four-man group, Future Shock (Sojourn, Ajax, Redbonz, and DJ DNA). The production on Experience would be exclusively handled by Peace 586, who would stay away from the microphone and strictly behind the boards for the duration of the album.

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, during the late nineties and early two-thousands, I went on a spiritual pilgrimage, and along with some other things, I cut “secular music” out of my diet. The Tunnel Rats were one of the few groups I relied on heavily for authentic hip-hop to feed my soul and satisfy the craving during that period, and I’ll forever be thankful to them for that.

I’m sure most of you aren’t familiar with the Tunnel Rats or their music. So, ignore the generic album cover artwork and come…experience Experience for the first time.

Execution – The first track on Experience features Jurny, Raphi, Zane, Ajax, and Sojourn passing the mic around the cipher like a baton, as they take turns talkin’ their sanctified ish and give the listeners their first taste of “Tunnel Rats’ rhyme revolution.” Peace 586 lets his hands do the talking, serving up an ill instrumental, dressed in sparkling keys, twangy Rza-like strings, and a few different tempo changes along the way. The hook is too wordy, but other than that, this was dope.

Stripes And Stars – Raphi, who gave a decent performance on the opening track, sounds too eager on his first solo joint of the evening, as he spits solid bars (although his claim to be “a housing project for the Messiah” was kind of awkward), but his frantic-paced delivery runs ahead of the beat and comes off super sloppy. Speaking of beats, Peace’s instrumental sounds bland and Raphi’s hook is annoyingly doing too much.

Broken Life – In their own abstract way, Future Shock discusses the practice of dying daily to the flesh to walk with Jesus. FS’s spiritual suicide is backed by a sweetly solemn instrumental, so even if you don’t necessarily care for their rhyming style (like me), you’ll enjoy the soothing music that supports them.

Poetry – Redbonz from Future Shock, gets off a quick poem about death, while eerie dark chords play in the background. I’m not a big “spoken word poem” guy and this was not dope enough to change my stance.

Experience – The album’s title track matches LPG with Peace 586’s crashing drums, understated grumpy bass line, and strings that teeter between sinister and regal. Jurny handles the first verse dolo, showcasing his superior rhyming skills and healthy vocabulary, while dedicating most of the verse to TR’s fellow Chrisitan rapper and rival, T-Bone: “You can’t comprehend massive talent of this nature, you’re…still stuck in your passive Christian rap artist behavior, you’re, mediocre, caught up in folklore, what’s hardcore? But if I name names, I won’t be sold in Gospel stores, more shoveling, but I keep him shuffling, through streets of beats, you couldn’t show your face in any place where LPG competes” (I’m not sure what sparked the beef between these two talented artists, but the beef was only beginning to cook…more on that in the next post). Jurny and Theory use the second verse to display their proficient off-the-top-of-the-dome freestyle skills, before closing the song with sage-like jewels and wisdom in the third verse. LPG’s entertainingly battle-ready bars and Peace’s potent boom-bap are sown together by a gripping hook, completing this masterpiece of a record.

Got What It Takes – The lovely Zane drops in again to prove that she’s more than just a pretty face with an appealing voice. Over mystical keys and a grinding bass line, she gets off two verses filled with quality bars that will also leave you with something to chew on: “What up boys, why you trippin’ on the message sender? Talkin’ bout ‘she raps good for a girl’ like hip-hop has a gender, bump that, you best get back, my reaction’s nuclear, you push my buttons, when you be frontin’, now we sound too secular, but I can understand, since your walk is based on the testimony of another man, a hu-man or something you seen on Rap City, I pity you confused adolescent still searching for identity.” Jurny jumps on the third verse, effortlessly stealing the show as he makes outlandish claims about being such a lyrical giant that he can plant his feet in the Atlantic Ocean, bend over and wash his face in the Pacific, then stand back up to snatch stars out the sky to play catch with his Tunnel Rat family.

Sneak – Redbonz, Ajax, and Raphi wage war with Peace’s wearily triumphant backdrop that has a well-placed Nas vocal sample on the hook. The rhymes weren’t stellar, but Peace’s instrumental was pretty impressive.

Reload – The second half of Experience begins with Raphi, Theory, and Sojourn spewing battle bars over gully boom bap that includes an ill Fat Joe vocal sample scratched into the hook that DJ Premier would be proud of. This was hard.

Corner Chronicles – Future Shock gets off their second and final group record on Experience. “Broken Life” found the four-man crew killing their flesh, but this time around they’re fully embracing it, looking to battle emcees and boasting of their lyrical prowess. Peace places a drab backdrop and an amateur beatbox underneath the underwhelming bars, and this one ends up being bearably boring.

Womans Touch – The missing apostrophe in the song title is not my doing, folks. Zane gets another solo joint, but this time around Jurny doesn’t interrupt. Peace pairs a cool suppressed melodic loop with clunky drums that create a unique groove, as Zane reps for the B-girls, calling out female emcees who rely heavily on sexualized rhymes to appeal, and boasts of her “tyrannosaurus raps” and “abnormal orals.” Another dope record and the Bahamadia vocal snippet on the hook was a nice added woman’s touch.

Poetry – Zane follows “Womans Touch” with a spoken word piece that also celebrates women. It’s no “Phenomenal Woman,” but I’m slightly obsessed with Zane’s voice, so I enjoy hearing her speak even when the output is mediocre. The barely audible music playing behind her sounds terrible and was completely unnecessary.

Wake Up Boy – Raphi’s aggressively speedy-paced rhyming style sounds so much better on this track than it did on “Stripes & Stars.” And Peace’s darkly cinematic instrumental backed by tribal-like drums is also a vast improvement from his work on Raphi’s first solo record of the evening. Along with “Experience,” this is my favorite record on the album.

Chance To Meet You – LPG follows up their great title track performance with a record that finds the duo recalling when they first met. Jurny and Theory spend the majority of the track stroking each other’s egos, showering the other with compliments and respect, and an occasional penis yank. The hook is overly wordy, and Peace’s production is kind of pedestrian, but I enjoyed LPG’s slick wordplay on this one.

Truth Hurts, Lies KillExperience ends with a moody soulful backdrop and Jurny ranting about the difference between imagining, dreaming, and thinking, before going into another tirade about choices (I disagree with both of his philosophies, by the way). Then he offers an apology to Tunnel Rats fans that may have been offended by something the TRs said on the album (like on “Experience” when he perpetuated the stereotype that all old Asian people can’t drive), before closing with an invitation for the listener to become a Christian by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And that’s a wrap.

On the closing track, “Truth Hurts, Lies Kill,” Jurny proclaims: “The Tunnel Rats, first and foremost, are ministers of the gospel. We fulfill the eternal mystery of Jesus Christ.” Since their inception, the Tunnel Rats were criticized, and their music brought under harsh scrutiny by church leaders, Christians, and other Christian rappers (*cough* T-Bone) who felt they were more focused on glorifying their rhyming skills than uplifting the name of Jesus and the gospel message. And after revisiting Experience these past few weeks, I’d say their naysayers’ critique was pretty accurate.

Except for the closing track and “Broken Life,” Experience finds the Tunnel Rats focused on spittin’ boastful raps and battle-ready rhymes, occasionally sprinkling in conscious couplets and touching on their spiritual beliefs, but always maintaining their moral integrity. Led by LPG, the TRs prove to be a pretty competent bunch of emcees that collectively spew moderately entertaining rhymes, but it’s Peace 586’s production that shines the brightest. Using a mixture of traditional and unorthodox boom-bap drum patterns, along with jazzy loops and eclectic string samples, the Bronx-bred rapper/producer puts together an impressive batch of East Coast-inspired instrumentals for his West Coast counterparts to sound off on, dually tantalizing the ears of the listeners in the process.

A lot of the Tunnel Rats’ later albums would be more gospel-centric and Bible-based, but that’s not the case with Experience. On the album’s title track, Dax reminisces about rap “battles where the stakes are the collection of your respect.” Experience exudes that pure and edgy hip-hop energy, and boy, do I miss it.


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Redman – Muddy Waters (December 10, 1996)

After making a few colorfully impressive cameos on a couple of different EPMD records, Redman would sign a solo deal with Rush/Chaos, dropping his debut album, Whut? Thee Album, in September of 1992. The album would become a critical darling that would also earn the Newark, New Jersey rapper a gold plaque. Redman would follow up Whut? with Dare Iz A Darkside in November of ‘94. Redman and I might be the only two people on earth that felt Darkside was a bit uneven (and that’s being gentle), as it would receive very favorable reviews from the prominent publications of that era (including 4 mics from The Source and a “Favorable” stamp from Vibe). My main issue with the album was the hit-and -miss production, but regardless of anyone’s opinion of the music, Darkside would earn Red a second consecutive gold certification, doing so in just over two months of its release. After taking another two-year break between albums, Redman would return at the end of ‘96 with his third release, Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters (which has a great pic for the album cover) would use the same formula as Red’s previous two albums, with Erick Sermon serving as the chief producer and Redman and a few other hands contributing to the music as well. Like its predecessors, Muddy Waters would go on to receive positive reviews, peaking at twelve on the Billboard 200, and earning Redman his third consecutive gold plaque.

Many consider Muddy Waters Redman’s greatest work. I haven’t listened to it in over two decades, so my memories of the album are a little…muddied. *rimshot*

Intro – The album begins with Redman’s evil alter ego, Dr. Trevis, reminding our host that this is the third album, as he tries to wake Red from his slumber, while a spell-bound group repeats an occult-like chant in the background. Then mysterious music, along with a series of weird noises and dramatic explosions occur, making the listener anxiously await a climax that never takes place. Then the next track begins.

Iz He 4 Real – Erick Sermon loops up a portion of The Roots “Section” for this slippery backdrop, while the Funk Doctor Spock loosens up for the night and gets off a short but solid verse.

Rock Da Spot – E-Double and Ty Fyffe concoct a digitized funk banger for Red, who quickly jumps into the musical Double Dutch ropes and finds his fun-spirited rhythm. This was dope.

Welcome (Interlude) – The previous track ends and this one begins with a few juvenile skits. Then Redman welcomes the listener to the album before spittin’ a few bars over E-Double’s drab and drowsy backdrop.

Case Closed – Xrossbreed (which was a duo made up of Rockwilder and Napalm) are the first guests to appear on Muddy Waters. Rockwilder is also credited for the grimy backdrop that he and his partner in crime, Napalm, sound nice rockin’ over. But Redman sounds great and right at home dismantling this gutter instrumental. My only problem with this record is it’s too short. I needed another round of bars from these three.

Pick It Up – E-Double lightens up the mood and puts some extra stank on this funk groove, while Red continues to wild out and entertain. This was a great choice for the album’s third single.

Skit – This NIN (Niggas In Newark) skit was mildly funny (I love the wholesome elevator music that plays in the background) and it works as a nice bridge to connect the previous song and the next track.

Smoke Buddah – Reggie builds this backdrop around the overly tapped Rick James “Mary Jane” loop, which he fittingly uses for this ode to weed, which also was an overly tapped hip-hop subject by 1996. This was super mid-grade.

Whateva Man – This was the second single released from Muddy Waters. Redman continues to smoke “herbals til it hurts you” and Erick Sermon jumps in to take a couple of tokes as well. The hysterical call-and-response hook, along with Erick Sermon’s cool subdued funk bop makes this joint extremely addictive and potent. Side note: The Blues Brothers-themed video for this record that paired Red with Meth was pretty hilarious.

Chicken Head Convention (Skit) – A super silly skit that you’ll only need to listen to once.

On Fire – Redman spits adequate bars to accompany E-Double’s mildly hot backdrop, making for an overall lukewarm experience.

Do What Ya Feel – This record would lay the foundation for the impressive Redman/Method Man run that would lift both rappers’ profiles and bring plenty of commercial success to both parties, culminated by the poorly received 2001 stoner flick, How High (I’m fully aware Red and Meth rapped together on 2pac’s “Got My Mind Made Up,” on All Eyez On Me, but this is the first official duet between the duo). Pras (from Fugees) and Jerry “Te-Bass” Duplessis serve up an anxiously smooth bop that Meth effortlessly lassoes with his cool flow, boasting of swimming the English Channel with a backstroke and hi-lariously claims to be the gingivitis to wack emcees’ “filthy ass gums.” Red matches Meth’s chill mood with slight aggression, gettin’ off a couple of solid verses, which includes him hysterically inviting his rivals to “suck my dick out of animosity.” The dope instrumental paired with Red and Meth’s undeniable chemistry makes for a super enjoyable record.

The Stick Up (Skit) – This skit finds Redman in thug mode robbing the occupants on a train and setting up the next song…

Creepin’ – Reggie stays in thug mode, concocting the most playfully unconvincing thievery narrative you’ll ever hear. But his self-produced grimy groove will keep your face screwed and head bobbin’ throughout.

It’s Like That (My Big Brother) – This was the lead single from Muddy Waters that finds Redman reuniting with his Hit Squad bredrin, K-Solo. Red constructs a stripped-down Brillo pad rough instrumental that he and Mr. Madison use to play a rowdy game of lyrical tug-of-war, no hook required. Nearly three decades later and this one still slaps.

Da Bump – E-Double reimagines the instrumental he produced for “Tonight’s Da Night” off the Whut? album, tweaking it just enough to make it sound breezier and more melodic than the original. Coincidentally, E also used this same instrumental for Bahamadia’s “I Confess Remix,” which also came out in ‘96 (I’m very curious how Bahamadia felt about E-Double’s double dipping, especially if she paid for the beat). With the refrain and song title also borrowing from “Tonight Da Night,” they should have just called this a “Tonight’s Da Night” remix, which sounds a lot better than the “Tonight’s Da Night Remix” CD only-bonus track on the Darkside album.

Yesh Yesh Ya’ll – Erick Sermon’s unnerving melodic backdrop will lull you into a trance, while Red continues to spew spirited stanzas full of animated bars.

What U Lookin’ 4 – This might be the closes Redman has ever gotten to making a socially conscious record, and one of the few songs on Muddy Waters that has a focused topic. Reggie uses Rockwilder’s smooth slightly funked groove to discuss police profiling of Black men and shares a couple of his own run-ins with twelve. And in true Redman fashion, he approaches the subject in a playfully lighthearted manner.

Soopaman Luva 3 Interview (Skit) – Painful foreplay that sets up the next song…

Soopaman Luva 3 – Part 1 of Redman’s zany ladies’ man superhero series found him getting down with an undisclosed transvestite. In part 2 he was seduced and tied up by a sexy something, before escaping and getting surrounded by a gang of “Martian bitches” and shooting his way out of a jam. The third installment involves oral and anal sex, police chases, and unexpected appearances from the infamous EPMD groupie, Jane, and Parrish Smith. All of Soopaman Luva’s bizarre antics are backed by a flip of the ill xylophone-driven sample from The Heath Brothers’ “Smilin’ Billy Suite Pt II” that transforms into some slow-rolling chunky funk slop midway through the song, which oddly, enhances the surprise ending. This is easily my favorite “Soopaman Luva” of the first three installments.

Rollin’ – Not essential listening, but decent filler.

Da Ill Out– Redman closes Muddy Waters with a Def Squad posse joint, inviting Keith Murray and Jamal to spar with him on this one. Red and Jamal sound decent, while Keith Murray’s verse sounds uncharacteristically sloppy, and Erick Sermon (who also gets off two bars during Jamal’s verse) places a crappy instrumental under it all, keeping his streak of horrible beat selections for Def Squad posse records intact.

The opening skit on Muddy Waters finds Redman’s alter ego, Dr. Trevis, trying to wake him up and urging him to focus, which I found telling. Redman’s on record for saying he wasn’t proud of his work on Darkside, even admitting to trippin’ on ‘shrooms during the making of the album. The opening skit sounds like Red’s playful way of acknowledging he wasn’t focused during his last outing and that Muddy Waters would mark his return to form.

Redman is not a “lyrical miracle” emcee (matter of fact, he told y’all back in ‘92 that he doesn’t “claim to be the best type of rapper”), but his charisma, animated energy, bluntness, and colorful rhymes have made him a cultural darling and a hip-hop legend. On Muddy Waters, all Redman’s emcee attributes are on display, as he slaps a quality batch of instrumentals across the face with whimsical weed references, humorous metaphors, silly one-liners, random shit talk, and oodles of horseplay. Much of the horseplay comes in the form of comical skits, placed in between almost every track. A couple of these skits are worthy of a chuckle, but most are crassly immature, and time has only made them sound like pure buffoonery. But as much as the foolish interludes try to…muddy the waters, the music and Red’s fun and free spirit make for an enjoyable listen…for all ya’ll stankin’ asses!


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Fugees -Bootleg Version (November 26, 1996)

After releasing their 1994 dud of a debut album, Blunted On Reality (which lived up to its title, even if not the way Fugees intended), the Haitian trio would go back to the lab to do some soul-searching and refining. Two years later, they would emerge with their sophomore effort, The Score. Unforeseen to the world, The Score would go on to be a monster of an album, climbing to the top of the Billboard 200 and selling over five million copies in less than eight months after its release. The album would also earn Fugees two Grammys in 1997 (including one for Best Rap Album) and is a bonafide classic that no one in their right mind would dispute. With the world in their little refugee hands, impatiently anticipating a follow-up to The Score, Fugees would end their incredibly successful year with Bootleg Versions.

Bootleg Versions is a collection of remixes of cuts from Blunted On Reality and The Score, along with a few other random records thrown into the tracklist. I believe the album had dual intentions: to wet the throats of Fugees’ thirsty fanbase while the group worked through its inner turmoil (that would ultimately break the group up the following year) and serve as a quick year-end money grab for Columbia/Ruffhouse. I’m not sure how many units Bootleg Versions sold, but the sum wasn’t enough to earn a gold plaque, which I’m sure was a disappointment for the label.

But fuck the label. Was Bootleg Versions good enough to satisfy the parched throats of Fugees’ fans? Let’s unpack this.

Ready Or Not (Clark Kent/Django Remix) – After a short interlude that tries to rekindle the playful energy of the skits that were laced throughout The Score, the legendary Kool DJ Red Alert shares a few words, followed by a few more words/melody from Wyclef. Then Clark Kent’s pensive instrumental built around a couple of slick xylophone loops gives the somber vibes of the original monster hit single a coldly solemn facelift. Speaking of a facelift, the Fugees match the renovated instrumental with new rhymes. Clef bats first and gets off a verse riddled with witty riddles, followed by a sharp conscious verse from L-Boogie (who also sings a completely new hook, mixed with portions of the original refrain). Then Pras wraps things up with a very…Pras-like verse. This was fire and a great way to kick off the album. The track concludes with another skit to set up the next song.

Nappy Heads (Mad Spider Mix) – The Fugees recycle the melodic “Nappy Heads Remix” instrumental for this remix that features reggae artist, Mad Spider repetitively chanting about weapons and police brutality. I didn’t necessarily need this remix, but it was nice revisiting the creamy instrumental. This one ends with another interlude.

Don’t Cry Dry Your Eyes – Clef and Company build this backdrop around a pulsating bass line, simple drums, and twangy funky guitar licks. Lauryn kicks things off with another phenomenal verse, as she continues to rhyme from a completely different spiritual plane than her contemporaries. Wyclef follows L with another entertainingly abstract verse before a battle-ready Pras closes the song taking another shot (which in hindsight was also prophetic) at his arch nemesis, Jeru The Damaja: “Niggas jealous, ‘cause the shit I said in “Zealots,” well let me tell it, without Premier you couldn’t sell it”(Between his obsession with Puff, and Pras and Keith Murray taking shots at him, Jeru was beginning to stack up quite a few enemies. But I digress). Wyclef’s aggressive adlibs give the record an edgy mixtape feel and complete another fire bootleg record. This one ends with words from Funkmaster Flex to set up the next song.

Vocab (Salaam’s Remix) – Salaam Remi maintains the folksy feel from the original mix but replaces its acoustic foundation with hard drums and an understated haunting vocal loop. Wyclef, Pras, and Lauryn (in that order) all spit brand new verses that are much improved from the pedestrian rhymes they spat on the original. Clef reinterprets the refrain from Dana Dane’s “Nightmares,” turning it into a cool hook, and the creamy melodic break (that sounds like what I’d imagine a heroin addict hears once the needle floods their veins with the liquid opioid) strategically sprinkled throughout the track is the cherry on top of this audible treat. This one ends with a bunch of scratchy phone conversations about Fugees’ bootleg records, while “How Many Mics” plays in the background.

Ready Or Not (Salaam’s Ready For The Show Remix) – This remix recycles the same verses used on Clark Kent’s “Django Remix,” with a few alterations made to Pras’ verse, and Clef edits his boast of “selling five million plates” to “four million.” Salaam’s dry instrumental doesn’t hold a candle to the song’s original instrumental or Clark Kent’s phenomenal remix, but I did enjoy L-Boogie’s reggae-tinged hook. This one ends with DJ Clue shouting out the Fugees and asking to hear “Killing Me Softly.”

Killing Me Softly With His Song – As requested by DJ Clue, the Fugees give us a portion of the smash hit single that would thrust Lauryn into superstardom. The audio was taken from the Fugees performing live at The Brixton Academy In London, but unfortunately, it’s not the best vocal performance from L and the audio quality isn’t the greatest. The track ends with more scratchy phone conversation skits.

No Woman No Cry (Remix) – Wyclef tackled this Bob Marley classic alone on The Score. This time around he invites one of Bob’s sons and reggae artist in his own right, Stephen Marley, to join him on the remake. Both parties do a solid job, making for good karaoke, but not a great record. This one ends with another unnecessary phone conversation skit.

Vocab (Refugees Hip Hop Remix) – This was the single/video version from Blunted On Reality that most casual fans will remember. L, Pras, and Clef offer up a stronger performance than the album version, but it’s still a far cry from the output they would give us on The Score. This track and the album ends with the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch & Bobbito, shouting out the Fugees.

Bootleg Versions starts strong, as three of the first four tracks are powder kegs, with the “Nappy Heads (Mad Spider Mix)” only being tolerable. The second half of Bootleg Versions is nearly useless, as the only track with any redeemable value is the closing “Vocab (Refugees Hip Hop Mix),” and that was even old news by 1996. Speaking of useless, the overabundance of interludes/skits (which I’m sure were intended to playfully weave the tracks together, while the cameos from respected hip-hop deejays and radio personalities were included to show Fugees had street cred) end up hindering the flow of the album, and like Christian Laettner on the 1992 Dream Team, they should have been left off.

Bootleg Versions isn’t essential listening or a must-have to complete your music collection, but for the dollar admission I paid to get in, it was a semi-satisfying experience and a stark reminder of the Fugees’ unfulfilled promise as a group.


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Keith Murray – Enigma (November 26, 1996)

Under his government name, Keith Murray made quite the first impression in 1993 with his scene- stealing appearance on Erick Sermon’s “Hostile” single. Using the opportunity to put his murderous poetry in motion, Keith would end the verse with a mic drop moment, giving a quick lesson in neuroscience, before telling all emcees to warn their crew of his arrival (“Damagin’ your medulla, cerebrum, and cerebellum, ya got a crew, you better tell ‘em”). That legendary verse, along with his association with the well-respected Erick Sermon, would lead to Mr. Murray signing a deal with Jive Records, releasing his 1994 debut album, The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (taken from a line in his “Hostile” verse). The album would go on to earn a gold plaque, and while it was an overall respectable album, it would get overshadowed by a slew of classic hip-hop albums released the same year. Keith would spend the next few years making several cameos, allegedly getting into a quarrel with 2pac, and beating up Prodigy at The Tunnel, before re-emerging from the funk abyss at the tail end of 1996 to release his sophomore album, Enigma.

Keith would keep his mentor, Erick Sermon, at the production helm for Enigma, with a few co-credits being distributed, and a couple of other helping hands would be involved in shaping the sound of the album. Curiously, there was only one single released from Enigma, and though the album received mostly favorable reviews, it would fail to reach the same commercial success as The Most Beautifullest.

Enigma’s an album I actually bought when it came out way back when, but it’s been a very hot minute since I listened to it last. Random thought: Fredro Starr beating Keith Murray in that MC War battle a few years back is still an enigma in my mind.

Intro – The album opens with ominous music, while Keith reminds all rappers in earshot who he is and warns that if “Anyone wanna diss me on record, Imma get physical with you,” which is clearly a rebuttal to Prodigy’s “The Infamous Prelude” and a reference to the beatdown he and his crew would later administer to the Mobb Deep rapper. After more colorful language, Keith amusingly ends his diatribe with one last request and warning: “You can say what you want, but just spell my name right, ’cause I’m comin’ to dinner.”

Call My Name – Mr. Sermon adds drums to the ominous loop from the intro and speeds it up a bit, as this one begins with a few words from Redman’s evil alter-ego, Dr. Trevis, before Keith is let out of his cell and straight jacket to unleash his sick vocabulary and deathly breath control on all his adversaries: “I’m the grand royal, hard to wear and tear, rap specimen, pissin’ on all you mere peasants, with virtuality, poetry I successfully, bring crews agony in virtual reality.” Keith sounds hungry and razor- sharp, and the aggressively rowdy hook puts an exclamation point on his menacing message.

Manifique (Original Rules) – Keith jump starts this one with some of the most elegant thug poetry I’ve ever heard: “I make music of murder and, mayhem for all of them and, murder ballads for, sweet chariots, my second return like an unstoppable bullet with wings, my ears ring your name, when you speak of me in vain.” Keith’s verbal onslaught continues throughout the track, while E-Double’s strong drums placed underneath an irresistible warm vibrating melody (that sounds very similar to the Crusaders loop he used on Double Or Nothing’s “Boy Meets World”) create a perfect contrast to our host’s hardcore couplets. The repurposing of the opening line of L.L.‘s pioneering hip-hop ballad, “I Need Love,” on the hook was a nice added touch as well. This is easily my favorite song on Enigma, and the dope song title matches the product.

Whut’s Happnin’ – Erick Sermon lays down a dark bluesy backdrop that a locked in Keith uses to devour his rivals, leaving their clothing and Timbs as the only remains and clues of human life. This song was removed from the later pressings of Enigma and it’s not currently available on DSP’s. I’d be willing to bet it had everything to do with a sample clearance issue with the sampling of the chattering crowd noise from the beginning of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” which is a shame, as the sample adds very little to what was a fire record.

The Rhyme – This was the lead and I believe only single released from Enigma. The self-proclaimed “mad matador of metaphor” continues to trash talk and spew potent battle-ready bars (“The most beautifulllest, vocabulist, punchin’ phony emcees dead in their esophagus, my analysis is rougher than callouses, you better practice, if you wanna challenge this”), while the Ice Spice thick bass line from Maze’s “Before I Let Go,” brilliantly bounces all over the place in the background.

Dangerous Ground – Keith invites his L.O.D. bredrin, 50 Grand (not to be confused with 50 Cent) to join him on this boast and battle record that would also be the title track for the film Ice Cube would star in the following year. 50 Grand gives it the old college try, but Keith easily raps circles around his faithful foot soldier. But even more impressive than Keith’s rhymes is The Ummah’s (which was the production team made up of J-Dilla and two-thirds of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) deliciously whimsical instrumental.

Rhymin’ Wit Kel – If you couldn’t figure it out based on the generic song title, this song pairs Keith with his other L.O.D. crony, Kel-Vicious. E-Double and Sugarless aka Ty Fyffe loop up the same Le Pamplemousse bass line break that Tha Alkaholiks flipped for “Damn,” as the duo takes turns talkin’ shit, which also includes Kel throwin’ a jab at Jeru The Damaja (“Nigga I’ll Jeru the Damaja, your rap style is weak and it has no stamina”), which I can only assume is related to the rumor that Jeru wasn’t happy about Keith’s line from “The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World” that referenced his name (“I’ll come cleaner than Jeru and damage an amateur”). I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s not a terrible record either.

What A Feelin’ – Keith continues to show off his lyrical dexterity, and it sounds like he’s calling out Jeru during his second verse (“bogus arithmetic” sounds like a coded reference to the title of Jeru’s second album, Wrath Of The Math, the “damage my career” line is a double entendre, and the threat to “Pull your dreads out your scalp” is pretty straight forward). Erick and Sugarless provide a decent backdrop that Keith easily outperforms.

Hot To Def – Mr. Sermon and Sugarless keep the chill vibes coming, as they tap the same Ohio Players loop Mary J. Blige and Grand Puba rapped and sung over on “What’s The 411?” Keith, whose been known to recycle his rhymes at times, starts this one off by reusing a portion of the opening verse he spat on the freestyle for Funkmaster Flex’s 60 Minutes Of Funk: Vol 1. Even though Keith starts the song off lazily regurgitating bars, he quickly picks up steam and gets off one of my favorite Keith Murray rhymes: “Theoretically, hypothetical, practically, actually, ain’t nobody fuckin’ with me.”

Yeah – Historically, The Def Squad has made some awful posse records, which is ironic, considering E-Double and Redman were a part of one of the greatest posse records of all-time in EPMD’s “Head Banger.” This one features Keith, Erick Sermon, Redman, Jamal, and Flipmode Squad representative and leader, Busta Rhymes. On paper, it reads like a fire cipher record, and while all five emcees spit decent to solid bars, the song never fully ignites, mostly due to The Green-eyed Bandit’s underwhelming instrumental that sounds like it came out of a yellow box with “Beat” written across the front.

Love L.O.D. – I guess it’s only right that if you’re Keith Murray and have a Def Squad posse record on your album, you have to give your Legion Of Doom crew a posse cut too. Kel and 50 Grand join Keith, as the three rappers pass the mic around like a hot potato and pledge their allegiance to the L.O.D. name. Naturally, Keith sounds leagues better than his cronies, and speaking of leagues, if rap were basketball, Kel and 50 Grand would definitely play in the D-League. The most intriguing part of this record is the jazzy piano loop-driven instrumental, which sounds like something The Ummah would have produced, but the credit is given to Rod “KP” Kirkpatrick with a co-credit going to Erick Sermon.

To My Mans – Our host takes a break away from his “rah-rah” boastful tough guy shit, using E-Double’s somber backdrop to reflect on his past and offer a solemn dedication to some of the people he’s lost through the years (shout out to Kenny Rogers). It was cool hearing the vulnerable side of Keith, and it’s completely okay if Dave Hollister singing the refrain of Simply Red’s biggest hit on the hook tugged at your heartstrings and moved you to tears.

World Be Free – Keith takes the listener on a verbal trip around the globe, listing several places on the planet that he’s traveled to and “demonstrated malicious mic beatens,” including that time he did “the Ichiban crane style in Japan” that he claims Redman witnessed. Mr. Sermon’s responsible for the warm vibrations and muffled melody placed over clapping drums that give off welcoming zen energy.

The Rhyme (Remix) – Keith wraps up Enigma with this jazzy semi-zany Ummah produced remix that gives the record a completely different sound than the O.G. mix. I like the original, but I enjoyed this remix a tab bit more, which might just be my Ummah bias speaking.

Simply put, Keith Murray is one rappin’ ass negro who doesn’t nearly get the respect he deserves as a wordsmith and emcee. Throughout Enigma, Keith twists, tangles, and bounces words off each other, flexing his healthy vocabulary mixed with aggression and poetical thuggery. And when you partner those attributes with his unique high-pitch vocal tone, his colorful rhymes jump off the page to dance, punch, and kick you square in the face. Keith sums it up best on “Manifique,” describing what he does on the mic as “Illustrating grammar in a hostile manner.” Keith doesn’t waste time chasing girls or bragging about his material possession, but except for “To My Mans,” he treats each track like a UFC octagon, living for the battle.

Led by Erick Sermon with a couple sprinkles of magic from The Ummah, the production on Enigma is pretty solid throughout. The middle of the album is burdened by one too many underwhelming cameos and a few super mid beats, but even when the production or his crew members fail, Keith carries the load, thoroughly entertaining with his lyrical hostility.

Enigma might not be a classic, but it’s a vast improvement from his debut album and a solid sophomore effort from one of hip-hop’s most underappreciated emcees.


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Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath (November 26, 1996)

After growing tired of the shady business practices of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, Dr. Dre would soon follow Ice-Cube’s lead, removing the broomstick from his ass and parting ways with Ruthless Records and the pioneering gangsta rap group, N.W.A. He would soon join forces with the notorious Suge Knight and help found the infamous Death Row Records. But he and Suge’s partnership wouldn’t be all peaches and cream, and after four mammoth sized releases (which included The Chronic and Doggystyle) in a four-year stretch that would help establish the label as a hip-hop powerhouse, the good doctor would leave the Row in 1996, looking for a new place to practice his musical medicine. Not to be discouraged, Dre would take the bull by the horns, partnering with Interscope and starting his own label, Aftermath Entertainment, closing out ‘96 with the label’s inaugural album, Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath.

The Aftermath is a compilation album that features both established and new artists with most of the production coming from Dr. Dre and his “Soul Kitchen Staff Producers,” whom the album liner notes list as Dr. Dre, Bud’da, Stu-B-Doo, Glove, and Flossy P. The elaborate twenty-page liner notes booklet comes with pics and a brief bio of each of the artist featured on the album, with one full page displaying the Aftermath Entertainment logo with their mission statement hovering above it that reads: “WE DON’T SET TRIP, WE SET TRENDS.” The Aftermath would produce at least two singles and Dre’s Midas touch would remain intact, as the album would go on to earn a platinum plaque.

I didn’t buy the album when it came out in ‘96, which is strange because I loved The Chronic and just about everything else Dre had a hand in. I bought a used CD copy for three bucks at least ten years ago, and now, twenty-seven years after the fact, I’ll be experiencing The Aftermath for the first time.

Aftermath – The album opens with the sound of a ticking time bomb that explodes right as Dr. Dre dedicates the album to his day ones and welcomes the listener to The Aftermath (“Like we always do about this time”). Then darkly sinister synth chords come in and an uncredited man with an awesome voice for voice over work (he sounds a lot like Neil deGrasse Tyson) shares the definition of aftermath, before he and a computerized female voice, that sounds inspired by the tour guide from Midnight Marauders, gives the album a co-sign and endorsement. Sid McCoy gets off a quick verse, denouncing gang bangin’ and costal feuds (this song is where the “set trip/set trends” quote in the liner notes comes from) and effectively explains the purpose and mission of the project: “Cause keeping it real means moving the cash markets…and constantly building, and stop destroying everything that we touch and leave something for our children.” This extended intro ends with an unnecessary refrain sung by Ruben Cruz aka RC, who sounds a little tone deaf, if you ask me.

East Coast/West Coast Killas – This was the second single released from The Aftermath, and a song I completely forgot existed. RBX (who apparently kissed and made up with Dre since we last heard from him), KRS-One, B-Real, and Nas join forces to forge the supergroup billed as Group Therapy. Over chaotic music filled with emergency sirens and disgruntled undertones that sound like the perfect soundtrack for anarchy, all four emcees are out to out rhyme everybody, without costal bias. Speaking of out rhyme, Nas puts down the triple beam and takes off the Escobar suit, returning to Nasty Nas form, as he easily out rhymes his counterparts.

Shittin’ On The World – Mel-Man gets his own solo joint, as he and Dre are credited with producing this relaxed-paced funky little diddly. Mel-Man, whose better known as a producer than a rapper, doesn’t have the strongest flow, but some of his humorous one-liners (i.e. “Mel go back like Emmitt Smith’s hairline,” “Buying shrimp scampi with the food stamp” and “I’m a rich nigga still getting public assistance” (shout out to ODB)) will keep you entertained, while the amusing hook will make you chuckle at least once.

Blunt Time – RBX makes his second appearance of the night, but this time he’s rollin’ solo. Dre (with a co-credit going to Stu-B-Doo) combines demented jazzy piano chords with a haunting synth G-funk riff, placed over reduced bpm drums, which is the perfect pace for RBX to take his time and get into narrator mode. RBX may have made amends with Dre, but it appears he still had a problem with his cousin, Snoop: “The metaphors are meltin’, style is beltin’, I heard a dog yelpin’ but no helpin’.” Come to think of it, this whole song might be a diss record for Snoop. Either way, I enjoyed it.

Been There Done That – This was the lead single from The Aftermath. Dre and Bud’da (who was responsible for producing some bangers on Westside Connection’s Bow Down) cook up a laidback pristine groove in the soul kitchen, stirring in a dash of subdued conga drum rolls and a touch of devious Gargamel vibes. Dre’s also on the mic and denounces the hardcore posturing of some of his contemporaries (even though he once embraced the style himself), as he flosses and brags about his money and material possessions. Dre sounds decent enough, but the incredible production and mixing of this track sound absolutely incredible.

Choices – The first R&B joint of the evening features vocalist, Kim Summerson singing about a romantic relationship that’s grown unstable and finds her contemplating her next move. The instrumental (credited to Floyd Howard, Glen Mosley, and Ewart Wilson Jr.) is built around an interpolation of Isaac Hayes’ “Look Of Love,” which is a sample you can’t really go wrong with, but they don’t include the dramatic horn stabs from the original break, and I find myself waiting for it to show up every time I listen to this song. Nevertheless, Kim gives a solid performance over the soft flowing music.

As The World Keeps Turning – The liner notes for this one are kind of confusing, but I’m pretty sure Miscellaneous is a four-man group composed of Who, Where, Soul Kitchen Staff producer, Flossy P, and newest candidate for worst alias, Poon-Skoon. Flossy P’s responsible for the boring backdrop, while Where contributes three drowsy verses. The combination makes for a very mediocre musical experience.

Got Me Open – Hands-On was a female R&B trio comprised of Lia, Crystal and Kim, who all look gorgeous in their liner notes pic, by the way. Bud’da is credited with producing this one, as he builds the backdrop around a jazzy swing keyboard riff for the ladies to sing about a man who’s got them dickmatized, while Dre drops by to get off another flossy verse that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand. The ladies’ vocals aren’t as beautiful as their faces, but I enjoyed Bud’da’s instrumental.

Str-8 Gone – Veteran emcee and Compton representative, King Tee makes his first appearance of the evening on this one. Bud’da hooks up a deep-fried synth trunk rattling banger (that includes discreetly placed funky organ chords during the hook), as KT finds his pocket and gets off some entertaining light-hearted bars. This was tough.

Please – Apparently, this was released as a single from The Aftermath, as there’s a whole video for it out there on the internet. Straight out of North Philly, Maurice Wilcher makes his introduction to the world over his self-produced bluesy instrumental that finds him singing the “she did me wrong” blues. Nicole Johnson plays the heartbreaker whose done Mo dirty, asking him to take her back and pleads for another chance during the hook, while he hi-lariously tells her to get down on her knees and beg for redemption. The lyrics are kind of cheesy and Mr. Lockhart doesn’t have the strongest vocalists, but it’s still a decent song.

Do 4 Love – Jheryl Lockhart keeps the R&B theme going, as Bud’da loops up the solemn xylophones and dense bass line from The Heath Brothers’ “Smilin’ Billy Suite PT II” that you’ll probably recognize from Nas’ “One Love,” produced by Q-Tip (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Jheryl’s heart’s been smitten by love, and he sings about it on this record that was clearly inspired by Bobby Caldwell’s classic of the same name. It makes for a decent listen, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the blue-eyed soul man’s version, who we sadly lost last week. RIP.

Sexy Dance – After a sensuous female voice asks, “Would you like a table dance?”, Dre and Bud’da keep the sensual mood going with slick seductive instrumentation. But instead of having a female vocalist get her Adina Howard on over the sexy music, RC jumps on the mic crooning for a young lady to give him a lap dance. Like the intro, RC sounds off key with his annoying nasally vocal tone, singing corny lyrics (“Your tongue…what you did with your tongue”) and nonsensical lines (“You got me open baby, cause I’m the mastermind” and what the hell is the “R&B underground”?) that sound like a freestyle. RC’s horrendous performance makes this one nearly impossible to listen to.

No Second Chance – Whoz Who is an R&B quintet that have absolutely no relation to Who and Where from Miscellaneous. Rose Griffin and Rodney Duke construct a beautifully melancholic semi-sappy G-Funk-esque groove custom made for a sad ballad. So, with the musical stage set to make a classic R&B record, Whoz Who uses the backdrop to sing about being sad and butt hurt over a chick who refused to dance when them: “I asked if she wanted to groove, she clowned me with her attitude, she found out I roll with the Who, now there’s nothing she wouldn’t do.” Not only are the lyrics and the song’s concept corny, but the fellas’ vocals are extremely hard on the ears as well.

L.A.W. (Lyrical Assault Weapon) – The spotlight shines on a Brooklyn B-Boy named Sharief, who claims to be “The beacon of light in hip-hop’s darkest hour” in his liner notes bio. Over a decent Stu-B-Doo produced backdrop, Sharief proves to be a competent emcee, but I need to hear more from him before bestowing the titles of “beacon of light” or “lyrical assault weapon” on him.

Nationowl – Christian Nowlin transforms into the emcee, Nowl, and takes center stage. His liner notes bio paints him has a reflective and spiritual young man, and his rhymes reciprocate that energy, as he effectively tiptoes with his soft-spoken voice over Bud’da’s crashing drums and tender emo-strings. This was dope, and I’d love to hear more from Nowl.

FameThe Aftermath concludes with a remake of David Bowie’s funky seventies hit that finds RC imitating Bowie’s exaggerated theatrically delivered lyrics and taking liberties to change a line here and there, while King Tee swings by to get off another quality verse. I actually enjoyed RC’s karaoke-like performance, but Dre (with a co-credit going to Glove) is the true mastermind behind this remake, as he brilliantly twists the whimsical funk chords from the O.G. version into a possessed G-Funk groove that sounds absolutely amazing.

With the official introduction of his Soul Kitchen staff producers on The Aftermath, Dre begins his shift from being a super producer to a bonafide production brand. The Aftermath also finds Dre shedding the gangsta image he embraced from his days with N.W.A. and wore with west coast pride through The Chronic era, as he and his Aftermath artists present a message of “peace, love, lust, and prosperity” through a mixture of hip-hop and R&B music. But whether he’s wearing khakis and smoking weed in his ‘64 or denounces costal beefs while flossin’ and boasting about his riches, if Dre’s name is involved, you best believe the music is going to sound good.

With a few exceptions (Group Therapy, King Tee, and Dre), The Aftermath showcases a crop of new hip-hop and R&B acts from both coasts and all points in between. Historically, Dre’s had a knack for discovering amazing emcees, bringing us such greats as The D.O.C., Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Eminem. Newcomers, Sharief and Nowl show potential, but none of the freshmen emcees that appear on The Aftermath have that X factor to make them standout in the crowd. The R&B acts on the album fare even worse, ranging from bottled water plain to cringe worthy. Thankfully, the overall quality well-mixed production, along with cameos from a few legends and respected veterans, helps offset the mediocre output from the fledgling Aftermath artists.

The Aftermath is a far cry from Dre’s undisputed classic compilation, The Chronic. But it still packs enough heat to make for an overall decent album, keeping the good doctor’s name unblemished.


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