Big Noyd – Episodes Of A Hustla (September 16, 1996)

In 1995, Mobb Deep released a bonafied classic with their sophomore effort, The Infamous. The album was a masterpiece in callous Queensbridge thuggery backed by Havoc’s intriguingly dark and grimy production. While Prodigy and Havoc would carry most of the lyrical load, the album would also feature cameos from a few grade A emcees, like Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Q-Tip. It would also include a few verses from newcomer and Mobb Deep affiliate, Big Noyd, who would make quite the first impression, delivering some dope verses (specifically on “Give Up The Goods” and “Right Back At You”). Noyd’s impressive cameos, along with his association with Mobb Deep and their commercial and critical darling of an album, would lead to him getting a solo deal with Tommy Boy, where he would release his debut album, Episodes Of A Hustla.

Naturally, when you have a producer in your camp that was as hot as Havoc was at the time, you rely on him to shape the sound of your project, and that’s exactly what Noyd did with Episodes. He would also call on Prodigy and a few more of his thug buds to lend some lyrical assistance over the course of the album’s eleven tracks. Even with Mobb Deep’s strong co-sign, Episodes would go under the radar with little commercial success or fanfare.

I found Episodes years after its release for a dollar at a used bookstore. I’ve listened to it once or twice over the years, but this will be my first time thoroughly digging into. So, without further ado…

It’s On YouEpisodes begins with a medley of Noyd related soundbites taken from The Infamous album and placed over a semi-funky instrumental for this makeshift intro.

The Precinct – The intro is followed by this interlude that begins with the “The Grave Prelude” from The Infamous album. Then a Curtis Mayfield loop (borrowed from “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue”) plays while a couple of heavy New York accented Italian detectives rant and rave about wanting to catch the elusive and notorious, Noyd.

Recognize & Realize (Part 1) – Now that we got all the preliminaries out of the way, the first actual song of the night pairs Noyd with his mentor, Prodigy, as the duo take turns trying to out thug each other over a decent Havoc produced instrumental. It’s far from a great record, but still passable.

All Pro – Noyd invites Ty Nitty, Twin, Prodigy and Havoc (though Hav only contributes a few adlibs) to the party for this street hustler cipher session. All parties involved turn in serviceable verses (I love our host’s bar: “Rapper Noyd the soloist, four-pound controloist, comin’ out The Infamous, controllin’ the shit”), but Havoc’s laidback gutter backdrop is the true star of this track.

Infamous Mobb – Havoc provides hauntingly grimy music for Noyd and P, who continue to cover the same territory as the previous two songs.

Interrogation – The detectives from “The Precinct” (who identify themselves as Officers Bruno and White) return for this interlude to question some unidentified brother about the whereabouts of The Infamous Mobb and Noyd over the same Curtis Mayfield loop from “The Precinct.” This adds absolutely nothing to the album, folks.

Usual Suspect – Havoc slides Noyd an energetic bop (I love the animated piano break brought in during the hook) to spit over and he gets off some of his strongest bars of the night (my favorite line being: “My standing, for gat handling is outstanding, I be the thug bustin’ slugs while ya tec jammin’”). And just when you thought this would be Noyd’s first dolo joint of the evening, Prodigy pops up and closes the song with a verse full of rambling that fades out before he finishes.

Episodes Of A Hustla – He faked us out on the previous song, but this title track does give Noyd a chance to shine dolo. Well, almost. P does rear his thugly head to take care hook duties. Unfortunately, Havoc’s sleepy borderline boring instrumental does nothing to help him illuminate.

Recognize & Realize (Part 2) – Havoc gives the original version a facelift, hooking up a sinister backdrop that recycles a portion of Noyd and P’s bars from Part 1, and he temporarily steps from behind the boards to join his thug brothers on the mic, adding a few verses to the record. This version sounds way more impressive than Part 1.

I Don’t Wanna Love Again – After the track opens with the sound of blowing wind, guest vocalist Se’Kou comes in sounding like a woman scorn, as she sings the hook about not “wanting to love again,” followed by two vague verses that lead you to believe some man left her heart broken. Then Noyd gets off a verse that clarifies that this song is not about a romantic love lost, but a dead homie that lost his life in the heartless streets. I’m sure Se’Kou’s indistinct verses and hook, along with the cheesy artificially flavored R&B music, was a strategic ploy to get Noyd a crossover record, which, didn’t work. According to the confusing liner note credits for this song, this is the remix (credited to After Six Entertainment), with Havoc credited for producing the original, which is not included on the album and I’m completely okay with never hearing it.

Usual Suspect (Stretch Armstrong Remix) – Stretch Armstrong (half of the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito) remixes the original track and gives it a breezy summertime feel, and he lets Prodigy’s rambling closing verse from the original play all the way through. I like the original (and after having to hear P’s verse play to the end on this remix, shoutout to Hav for cutting it short), but this remix is super fire.

Episodes Of A Hustla delivers exactly what it promises in the album title. Noyd uses the album’s eleven tracks to celebrate the trife life with Havoc orchestrating the thuggery with his raw and murky production scheme, while Prodigy does his best Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx impression, showing up on nearly every track, but unlike Ghost, he doesn’t get a “featuring” credit or his pic on the album cover. The content on Episodes quickly becomes redundant and it would have been nice to hear Noyd (who proves to be a competent emcee) stand on his own two with less lyrical assistance from P and the crew, but it’s still a decent debut album from “Rapper Noyd, the soloist.” And in this case, the term “soloist,” is used very loosely.


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DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…… (September 16, 1996)

Davis, California is a small city just west of Sacramento with a population of around sixty-eight thousand people. It’s nearly 105 years old and its claim to fame (if that’s what you want to call it) is being the home of the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. Davis is not known for its hip-hop scene or influence, but it is the home of Joshua Davis, better known to the world as DJ Shadow.

DJ Shadow got his start deejaying for the University of California, Davis campus radio station, KDVS. By that time, he was already an avid record collector and certified hip-hop head and started experimenting with sampling and creating beats. You can research the intricate details on how, but Shadow would eventually ink a deal with the British Label, Mo’ Wax, which was at the forefront of the trip-hop/alternative hip-hop sub-genre in the mid-nineties. After releasing a single and at least one EP on Mo’ Wax, Shadow would release his debut album, Endtroducing in 1996.

Shadow said he named the album Endtroducing because it was his debut album and the “end” of the production style he would use on the project, which he created entirely with only his AKAI MPC60 drum machine, a pair of turntables, Pro-Tools and a heapin’ helpin of records that he would study, chop up and dissect. Endtroducing is widely considered a classic and in 2006 it would earn itself a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums of All-Time and a ranking of 329 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of Greatest Albums of All-Time. It is also in the Guinness World Records for being the first album made completely by samples, and more importantly, Shadow gave Ali Shaheed Muhammed a shoutout in the “More Masters” section of the liner notes, so we check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Through the years, Endtroducing has definitely accumulated its share of fanfare, accolades and hype, but is the music worthy of all the hoopla and praise? Let’s discuss.

Best Foot Foward – DJ Shadow brilliantly chops up a collage of soundbites to introduce himself and Endtroducing to the listening audience.

Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt Endtroducing has some great song titles, with this being one of them. The track begins with a soundbite that cleverly does the speaking for Shadow and his music, while three different piano loops create an emotionally dark mood. Then Shadow adds heavy drums and a ghostly harmony, and right before your eyes the grain instantly turns into vapors. Shadow shows off later on in the track by throwing in a few ill drum breaks and slick wah-wah guitar licks, making an already amazing record sound even better. Random factoid: A portion of this song was used in a Chevrolet commercial. I wonder how nice those Chevy checks was for the kid.

The Number Song – Metal guitars collide with hard drums, placed underneath a bunch of countdown soundbites. This reminded me of some vintage PE/Bomb Squad shit. Dope.

Changeling – Shadow combines airy vibes with plush guitar licks, sweet sax notes and rumbling drums that create a serene experience, except for that moment when the dark storm cloud moves in to disturb the peace. I’d be interested to hear Shadow’s backstory for the song title, but even without an explanation, I enjoyed the track.

Transmission 1 – This short interlude features a staticky voice speaking over a fuzzy radio frequency about dreams, transmitting and broadcasts, while a dark and dull noise lurks in the background, creating spooky tension. Listen to this shit when you’re outside by yourself in the middle of the night and I guarantee you that it’ll give you goosebumps.

What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4) – A few years before DJ Shadow released Endtroducing, he released and EP on Mo’ Wax called What Does Your Soul Look Like, which consisted of four different parts, all named after the EP’s title. Well, as I’m sure you were able to figure out based on the song title, this is Part 4 from that project. Shadow mixes and stirs the perfect loops together to create this mystical instrumental that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to do some introspective soul searching to.

Untitled – Shadow lays down a funky loop and places a random soundbite of a man talking about Maureen and her five sisters, who apparently all have voluptuous asses, but the sister with “eyes as big as Jolly Ranchers” has the beauty to match her booty. This is a super random interlude, but it left me wanting to take a gander at the backyards of these six sisters.

Stem/Long Stem – This one begins with calm instrumentation, but Shadow puts just enough tension in the music for you to sense a storm is brewing. Slowly, the storm clouds move in, and about a minute and a half into the track, you’re smashed in the face with epic EDM vibes and frantic metal chords that join forces to completely fuck your head up. The calm, temporarily, comes back in, accompanied by sophisticated violin strings, and just when you’ve recovered from the first round of musical assault, Shadow whacks you in the dome with another round of mania. This would sound great in an action movie like The Fast & The Furious (interesting enough, DJ Shadow’s “Six Days (Remix)” featuring Mos Def was on the soundtrack for the F&F third installment, Tokyo Drift in 2006). The second half of this (“Long Stem”) uses a lot of the same pieces as the former, but it never moves from its calm state, and after experiencing the brilliant chaos that was the first half, it pales in comparison. But the masterful musical work of the first half more than compensates for the second.

Transmission 2 – This interlude combines a muffled water submerged bass line with solemn piano taps that would work as the perfect theme music for Batman as he looks down at Gotham from the city’s tallest skyscraper after a successful night of crime fighting. Then his proud peace is interrupted by that damn staticky voice, fuzzy frequency and dark noise from “Transmission 1.”

Mutual Slump – I’m not sure who or what Shadow’s referencing in the song title, but he’s definitely not talking about his drums. Once again, our host puts on a clinic in drum sampling and programming with this one.

Organ Donor – Shadow brings back the organ loop that “Long Stem” began with (it reminds me of the Incredible Bongo Band organ loop that flipped at the beginning of Nas’ “Hip-Hop Is Dead” record) and puts a dope drum beat underneath it, turning this into an incredibly entertaining little diddly with a clever song title.

Why Hip-Hop Sucks in ’96 – The song title works as a riddle and during the middle of the smooth pimped out groove, a quick soundbite provides the answer.

Midnight In A Perfect World – Shadow brings back the musical pieces used on “Transmission 2” and adds pounding drums and a little harmony into the mix. The song title matches the wonderfully somber music to a tee.

Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain – This one starts with random soundbites about dogs on the moon and playing checkers, before the listener is greeted by a hypnotic bassline and drums, and seductive wah-wah guitar licks. Then after a short break, “Scatter Brain” shows up to the party and takes the listeners’ ears on a thrilling ride backed by frantic drums that sound like they were diagnosed with ADHD, and that Uncle Luke would be proud of. After three minutes of bouncing off the walls, Scatter Brain finally takes his medication and slowly begins to tire, bringing the record to an end. This was genius.

What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit) – Part 4 gave us mystique and Part 1 falls somewhere in between relaxing and melancholic, built around a jazzy sax sample, slick drum rolls and a soothing vocal melody. Like Part 4, this version is also very suitable for soul searching.

Transmission 3 – More of the same weird dark antics as the first two “Transmissions” with a few additional quirks to creep you out even more.

Over the course of thirteen tracks (or sixteen if you listen to it on a DSP) and just over an hour runtime, Endtroducing takes the listener on an exhilarating musical ride, as DJ Shadow showcases his layered genre-bending production style that’s rooted in hip-hop but too grand to be contained in its confines. Endtroducing combines elements of jazz, soul, rock, metal, classical, electronica and random soundbites, which all sound great, but it’s Shadow’s wide variety of drums that shine the brightest. Via a soundbite on “Grain,” Shadow warns the listener that he’s not only a student of the drums but also a teacher, and he gives a Masterclass throughout Endtroducing with an array of monster drum patterns. The music on Endtroducing creates a gumbo mix of moods, ranging from self-reflection music to exciting cinematic scores, and at least six of the album’s tracks are nuclear bombs that will leave you mesmerized and thoroughly entertained.

Shadow once said in an interview that he chose not to use rappers on Endtroducing because “lyrics were confining” and “too specific.” With the absence of the emcee on the album, you experience that limitlessness in his music. Endtroducing is an absolute classic that stands as a testament to why sampling is and should be respected as a true art form.


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A+ – The Latch-Key Child (August 27, 1996)

Through the years, hip-hop has given us our fair share of kid rappers. Jermaine Dupri set the bar back in the early nineties when he discovered two young teens at an Atlanta mall and groomed the duo into becoming the backwards clothes wearing, platinum selling, pop rap sensation, Kris Kross (rip to Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly). The success of Kris Kross opened the market for kid rappers and the next few years would bring on quite a few acts looking to duplicate the success of JD and the Krises: Chi-Ali, Da Youngsta’s, Illegal, Shyheim, and the subject of today’s post, A+.

At the age of fourteen, Andre “A+” Levins would release his debut single “All I See,” and a few days before his fifteenth birthday he would release his debut album, The Latch-Key Child on Universal. Backed heavily by the production and the pen of Smith Brothers Entertainment (a production team comprised of the three Smith brothers: Elliott, James and Charles), The Latch-Key Child would peak at thirty-six on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts and received mostly positive reviews. For one reason or another (probably because Universal stopped believing in the project), only one single was released from The Latch-Key Child, and it would quickly fizzle out becoming a mere footnote in the annuals of hip-hop. Universal would give A+ one more shot with his 1999 sophomore album, Hempstead High, but after that project failed commercially, A+ would fade away into hip-hop obscurity.

Let’s revisit The Latch-Key Child and assess if it’s worthy of more than footnote status.

Next Level (Intro)/Enter Hempstead – The album opens with a snippet of A+ giving shoutouts during an interview, then a dark slow-rolling mystically muddy instrumental (credited to Fabian Hamilton) drops and A+ spits a few boastful verses to warm up for the night. The second half of this (“Enter Hempstead”) starts with a couple of news soundbites about the streets of Hempstead, followed by a different beat that’s not as dope as the previous one, but sufficient enough for A+ to get off another quick verse.

Move On – Our host dedicates this one to a few of his deceased peoples. Over a melancholic backdrop that incorporates a slick Ron Isley soundbite for the hook, A+ offers up three verses that each explain the sad demise of three different young people (Black, KayShawn and Amanda), all lost to senseless gun violence. A’s sad rhymes combined with The Smith Brothers’ somberly beautiful instrumental make for a compelling and powerful listen that sends my parental anxiety through the roof.

Me & My Microphone – Buckwild gets his first of two production credits on the night, creating a dope semi-somber instrumental that A+ uses to discuss his relationship with his first love, his microphone (get your heads out the gutter, kids). A+ compares his microphone to a girl, and while his metaphoric storyline isn’t executed to the level of Nas’s gun comparison on “I Gave U Power” or Common’s love/hate relationship with hip-hop on “I Used To Lover H.E.R,” it’s decent enough. Q-Tip drops by to provide the hook, providing the cherry on top of this enjoyable record and satisfying Tribe Degrees of Separation for yet another post.

All I See – This was the lead and only single released from TLKC. Carl Carr (say that name fast ten times) interpolates Shalamar’s “This Is For The Lover In You,” creating a feel-good skating vibe that A+ uses to express his gratitude and affection for a young lady that’s got him wide-open (so much so that her love detoured him from becoming a thug). This is bubblegum hip-hop in its purest form, and the guest vocalist, Shakira Atily’s adlibs and hook are designed to make the gum even easier to chew (speaking of the hook, how bad is second part: “Give me a chance to know your name, and I’ll never turn and walk away”? Huh? Flaws and all, I still enjoyed the Shalamar flip.

Gusto – A+ is joined by fellow Hempstead native and one-half of Mobb Deep, Prodigy for this unlikely duet. Miladon (dope alias) hooks up a grimy backdrop that sounds like something Havoc would chef up, as A+ spits PG-13 rated thug rhymes and P holds nothing back, spewing his standard uncensored dark bars full of death and violence, and he takes care of hook duties. Even though this pairing feels unnatural, it still makes for a decent record.

Hard Times – The hook on this one makes it sound like a song of encouragement, but A+’s verses kind of contradict the optimistic refrain (Oh, and by the way, “Brothas are tired of being broke, so maybe that’s why they freebasin'” might be the most ridiculous bar I ‘ve heard all month). The song’s conflicting content sounds like lazy writing and when combined with the Smith Brothers’ sleepy instrumental, this one is easily skippable.

A + Z – If you’ve never heard this song before or didn’t already figure out based on the semi-clever song title, this one pairs A+ with AZ. Ike Lee hooks up a smooth mid-temp groove with a deep bass line for the two parties to exchange bars over, but unfortunately, AZ only spits about eight bars and is left to handle hook duties, while our host tries his best to justify rhyming on the same track as a lyrical monster like his guest.

Wanna Be Rich – Over Buckwild’s warm and creamy backdrop, A+ shares his dreams of being rich and successful, or as he so cleverly puts it on the hook, “turn these paper plates to silver platters.” I don’t know if he ever achieved his financial goal (he definitely didn’t as a rapper), but it makes for a dope record.

My Thing – A+ spits more “rah-rah” rhymes over a fire Brothers Smith instrumental.

Parkside Coalition – Miladon gets his second production credit of the night, providing another gully backdrop for this Parkside posse record. A+ is joined by three other uncredited rappers that sound heavily influenced by Mobb Deep, but collectively, they turn this into an entertaining record that Hempstead can be proud of.

Party Joint – As you can probably tell from the song title, this one is designed for the clubs. The Smith Bros. build the instrumental around a loop from The S.O.S. Band’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” that our fifteen-year-old host uses to rap about sippin’ Moet and baggin’ bad chicks in the club, to which I say, all of its cap. The production work is decent, but the song ends up sounding as generic as the song title.

Alpha 2 Omega – A+ uses this dope instrumental to get on some boastful battle shit. That’s all I got.

Shout It Out (Outro) – A+ brings back the instrumental from “Next Level” and raps a few shoutouts to close out the album.

Based on the album title, cover artwork and the puppy love content of the radio friendly lead single, you would assume The Latch-Key Child (I hate the way “Child” sounds in the title; “Kid” sounds and would have flowed so much better) was going to present A+ as an innocent teenager with a bunch of playful themes and light-hearted songs. There’s a reason they say don’t judge a book, or in this case, an album, by its cover. Over the course of thirteen tracks, young Andre (who sounds like a mix of Shyheim and Jamal) recites the scripts written for him (courtesy of the The Smith Brothers), which mostly cover street life tales and thuggery that our teenage host sounds way too young to be rapping about. Musically, TLKC sounds great, as The Smith Brothers and company create a thorough batch of dope instrumentals for our host to rap over, so even while you’re shaking your head in disbelief at young Andre’s street/thug narratives or laughing at his fabricated episodes of sippin’ Moet and baggin’ ladies in the club, you can still zone out and enjoy the soundscape that backs his fairy tales.


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MC Lyte – Bad As I Wanna B (August 27, 1996)

MC Lyte is considered by most to be one of the greatest female emcees of all-time. Before becoming the voice for most of BET’s Award Shows and the voice behind a bunch of TV commercials (and might I add, more beautiful the older she gets), her sturdy feminine voice helped pioneer the way for the ladies in the mid-eighties, as she and Latifah led the charge for female rappers to be taken as serious on the mic as their male counterparts. The last time we checked in with MC Lyte was in ‘93 with her fourth album and final release on First Priority, Ain’t No Other. The album would render Lyte her first gold-selling single (“Ruff Neck”), but the album didn’t do as well commercially and, in my opinion, it was a bit uneven. Still in her mid-twenties, Lyte was looking for a new label situation and eventually would land at East/West/Electra where she would release her fifth album, Bad As I Wanna B.

MC Lyte would recruit SoSo Def head and music mogul, Jermaine Dupri to oversee Bad As I Wanna B as the executive producer, and he and Rashad Smith would produce most of the album’s ten tracks. Bad would reach fifty-nine on the Billboard Top 200 and bear fruit to two gold-selling singles, but the album itself received mixed reception from the critics and I don’t know if the streets was even checking for Lyte by ‘96.

I’m very familiar with the singles from Bad, but I have never listened to the full album since finding it in the dollar bin at a used bookstore several years ago. But like they say, there’s no time like the present, so…lets go back in time.

Keep On, Keepin’ On – The first song of the night was also the lead single from Bad. JD builds the slick instrumental around an interpolation of MJ’s “Liberian Girl”, as Lyte plays a manizer, flexing her feminine flirt that gets mildly dirty: “I get loose and produce large amounts of juice, can you get use, to that or do you need a boost, of energy, to enter me and get it on… beat on my drum if you feel the need to, as I proceed to, open up and feed you.” JD (who also receives a co-writing credit for this song along with Lyte) adds discreet adlibs throughout the song and Xscape takes care of hook duties, giving the shimmering track an even shinier R&B feel. Lyte has never sounded so sexy and enticing on a record, and I enjoyed it. Thanks, Jermaine.

Have U Ever – Lyte puts the sexy shit to the side and sets out to prove to all “the ruffnecks and hoodrats” (her words, not mine) that she’s still lyrical and has maintained her street edge. Am I the only one that found it hilarious that during the second verse when Lyte shouts out Da Brat and asks her to holla if she’s down when our hostess that JD’s protégé gives no response? I mean, they could have at least let her give a quick “what up” adlib. Speaking of JD, his bland backdrop does nothing to breathe life into Lyte’s decent rhymes.

Everyday – This was the second single released from Bad. Lyte comes off like a arrogant pimptress as she lists her needs and requirements for any would be suitors: “I got a wish list that must be fulfilled, and you gets none until I get my toes sucked, and my eyebrows plucked, I need my car waxed and my floor shellac, I need my back rubbed, and the bubbles in the tub, that float me to the bed so that we can make love.” JD hooks up another smooth and pristine R&B bop (and receives another co-writing credit), but this time only Kandi Burruss from Xscape drops by to sing the hook, completing this satisfactory groove.

Cold Rock A Party – This was the third single released from Bad. Well, kind of. The album features a super mid Rashad Smith produced instrumental that our hostess uses to get off a few brags and boasts. The “Bad Boy Remix,” which is built around a loop from Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” and features new verses from Lyte and cameos from Puffy (of course) and Missy Elliott, was the version used for the single that most of you probably remember. It wound up being a great business decision, as it would propel the single to gold status, plus the remix sounds a thousand percent better than the O.G. mix.

TRG (The Rap Game) – Lyte comes off like the seasoned veteran that she was by 1996, sharing some of her wisdom and own experiences in the fickle and fleeting rap game: “I got trapped in the rap game at sixteen, and saw it’s no more than a crap game, know what I mean? Like when you feel you shake ’em right they fake roll snake eyes, in this industry that’s how quick niggas die, through my eyes it’s like Russian roulette, never do you know when you’re about to get wet, so you should stay set so you don’t fall and go under, have people saying I wonder what happened to him or her.” Lyte’s commentary was pretty interesting, and even though JD’s interpolation of a portion of Barry White’s classic, “I’m Gonna Love You,” sounds stripped of its soul, I still dug the polished synthy instrumental.

One On One – This record finds Lyte yearning and lusting after one unnamed gentleman but based on the trail of clues she leaves throughout the song, I think I figured out who he is. Let’s run through them, shall we: He’s been on the cover of Vibe Magazine. He’s starred in movies (“Hollywood got a hold of that behind”). He has a woman/wife. He has a nice body (she longs for the opportunity to rub his backbone, deltoids and biceps). He’s a musical artist (“I like the video you got out, the song is butter”). It has to be LL Cool J (Hit me in the comments if you agree or if you have another possible candidate). The Rashad Smith/ Goldenboy produced instrumental is dope and sounds great behind Lyte’s riddled rhymes.

Zodiac – Lyte (or her co-writing friend, credited as Allah) got the bright idea (no pun intended) to make a song about zodiac signs. The only problem is none of her rhymes sound the least bit interesting and JD’s instrumental is even less effective.

Druglord Superstar – Lyte plays the role of a fed-up girlfriend, whose drug dealing boyfriend’s lifestyle is starting to affect hers and she uses the song’s three verses to outline his evil deeds and exploits. After leaving Lyte hanging on “Have You Ever,” Da Brat stops by to play Lyte’s supportive friend, adding a few aggressive adlibs and helps with the hook, but no verse, which I’m sure they could have easily fit into the song and storyline. The hook is kind of random, but the urgent feel of Rashad Smith’s instrumental works well backing Lyte’s semi-interesting storyline.

Keep On, Keepin’ On (Remix) – Same lyrics as the original with a way less interesting instrumental, and Xscape changes up the hook just enough to not get a fuck.

Two Seater – If LL can swing an episode in the backseat of his Jeep, then why can’t Lyte get freaky in her two-seat coupe? Over the course of three verses, Lyte mixes sexual innuendos with car references (hi-lariously boasting that her car has “automatic locks” and “newly installed shocks.” Oh, you fancy, huh?), but whatever you do, don’t try to spark a blunt while in her fancy ride. R. Kelly is credited for the lifeless backdrop that sounds like an unfinished idea and Lyte ‘s hook is horrendous: “If you wanna ride good life, baby, you can’t smoke the weed-a, in my two seata.” Come on, Lyte.

Bad As I Wanna B finds a matured MC Lyte embracing her feminine side and sexuality, and out to prove that she’s still a viable emcee. While I’m sure the recruitment of JD to produce and oversee the project and Puff Daddy’s work on the “Cold Rock A Party (Bad Boy Remix)” were more calculated moves than organic, the choice paid off commercially for Lyte and the polished easily digestible R&B saturated singles are pleasing to the ear, even if they neglect her hardcore fanbase. Ironically, most of the songs on Bad that are designed to appeal to the hardcore fanbase suffer from production that’s plain as vanilla and drier than Tyrone Biggums’ lips, while Lyte struggles to find anything interesting or entertaining to rap about, even with the help of a few writers.

Bad As I Wanna B is far from terrible, but in a year packed with so many heavy-hitting albums, it sounds a little…Lyte.


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Outkast – ATLiens (August 27, 1996)

I’ll start this post off by wishing ATLiens a happy 26th birthday, which it celebrated this past Saturday. I hope you enjoy the read!

If you’re a regular reader of TimeIsIllmatic, then you already know how much of a Stan I am of A Tribe Called Quest. Through thick or thin, rain or snow, classic album, or mediocre project, (hell, I even have a whole segment on this blog dedicated to them) I will always be a loyal (but honest) ride or die chick for my forever favorite hip-hop group of all time. But as ATCQ was about to begin their descent from the top of hip-hop’s mountain, there was a duo out of the south positioning themselves to take the baton and start their journey up that mountain.

The Atlanta based duo, OutKast (comprised of Andre 3000 aka 3 Stacks and Big Boi aka Daddy Fat Sax) made quite the first impression with their debut album, Southernplayalusticadilacmuzik (that I’ll admit, I was late to the party on). Backed by the heavily live instrumentation production style of the three-man production team, Organized Noize, SPCM would render two hit singles, one of which would earn OutKast a gold plaque (“Player’s Ball”) and a year after its release, the album would become certified platinum. OutKast wouldn’t rush to come back with a follow-up, but two years and change later, they would resurface with their sophomore effort, ATLiens.

The title, ATLiens, is a combination of OutKast’s home base (Atlanta) and a reference to their alien status, which is kind of a synonym for the group’s name. The album cover for ATLiens is a dope comic book illustration and the CD jacket is an elaborate twenty-six page booklet, which is mostly a comic book with a detailed storyline (credited to longtime OutKast collaborator and poet, Big Rube) that stars “Bin-Hahmin” and “Dad-Efat-Sax” as super heroes at war with their arch nemesis, Nosamulli and his Dark Horde, whose mission is “to control all music that will be made from here on out.” And what would become OutKast tradition, the physical CD itself features eye candy in the form of an animated naked curvaceous soul sista that I’m assuming you didn’t get on the cassette version of ATLiens. Wait. Now I’m curious how bangin’ the cartooned caramel goddess’ body looks on the larger vinyl platter. Am I a pervert for thinking about that?

Like SPCM, OutKast would call on Organized Noize to produce the bulk of ATLiens, but Andre and Big Boi would also be credited with producing five of the albums’ tracks with help from a host of musicians. ATLiens would be an even bigger commercial success than its predecessor, becoming OutKast’s first double platinum selling album. It would also receive great reviews from the critics and is considered by most a classic and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.

And they were just getting started.

You May Die (Intro)ATLiens opens with somber music and a woman saying a Catholic Portuguese prayer. Then Joi, Whild Peach and Trina (I’m pretty sure it’s not “da baddest bitch” from Miami) join in singing melancholic words of encouragement, allowing the ear and heart that needs to hear their message a moment to weep before getting back up and continuing this journey called life. If you cried (or teared up) while listening to this beautifully sorrowful intro, don’t feel bad. You won’t be the first person or the last to do so.

Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac) – After a stereotypical alien voice (that was also used on the intro to “D.E.E.P.” on SPCM) gives his salutations to all of us lowly earthlings, Organized Noize drops a tough drumbeat coupled with a dark piano loop that finds Big Boi and 3 Stacks sounding refreshed but a bit disgruntled. The fellas voice their frustration with copycats, sucka emcees and groupie chicks, all while representing for the “south coast slums” aka Atlanta. This is a dope record (no pun intended) that will get your head nodding after the emotional rollercoaster that the intro took you on.

ATLiens – This title track was also the second single released from ATLiens. OutKast gets their first of a handful of production credits on the evening, hooking up rolling drums, a sturdy bass line and what sounds like an alien gospel choir singing in between the verses. Big Boi stays “cooler than a polar bears toenails” as he talks his southern player shit and Andre begins his transformation to alien status emcee, getting off two stellar thought-provoking verses (Dre’s second verse might be the best verse spat in ‘96 and its definitely one of his top ten verses of all time). This monster record is a bonafide classic that has aged very well.

Wheelz Of Steel – Lyrically, Boi and Dre clash to perfection on this one, as Boi spits hood shit in his Daddy Fat Sax persona, while Stacks continues to scorch the phenomenal production that ATLiens has begun with, spewing fire verses full of substance. OutKast is credited with producing this one, but Chanz is responsible for the anxious organ chords and Craig Love for the face-scrunch inducing guitar riffs that are the meat and potatoes of this production. The Premo like high-pitched squealing cuts (i.e., “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?” and “Code Of The Streets”) at the end of the song are the cherry on top of this musical masterwork.

Jazzy Belle – This was the third and final single released from ATLiens. The song opens with somber angelic female voices (Debra Killings and the Jazzyphatnastees) harmonizing, then pulsating drums drop, accompanied by grey melodic tones that our hosts use to rebuke sistas for being scandalous and promiscuous (hence the song title which is a play-off of the name of the wicked biblical Queen, Jezebel). In today’s cancel culture, I don’t think Kast would have gotten away with releasing this one, but I’m also sure that OutKast’s (or at least Andre’s) stance on the subject has changed since this was recorded. There’s also the “Swift C’s Remix” that doubled as the single version for this song. It’s pretty much the same, just with jazzed up drums and male vocalists singing over the voices of OutKast’s angels, giving it a crossover R&B feel. I prefer the original, and shoutout to Trends of Culture.

Elevators (Me & You) – This was the lead single from ATLiens. Kast creates a cool atmosphere with warm and grumpy keyboard notes, a hypnotic bass line that sounds like its sneaking through your window to burglarize your home while you sleep, drums that aren’t needed but add to the track’s mystique, all brought together by a super catchy nonsensical hook. Both Boi and Dre sound locked in, but of course Dre outshines his partner in rhyme with yet another alien performance during his second verse, where he recalls a bump in with an old classmate from high school. Yet another undeniable classic that has held up well through the years.

Ova Da Wudz – Andre spits one sharp verse about shady record companies and the struggle some brothers go through to feed their family, sandwiched in between two Big Boi verses about pussy, weed, and a bunch of randomness, while their homie, EJ Tha Witch Doctor, chants on the hook. I have no idea what the song title means, but the ill drums on this one immediately conjured up visions of Shaka Zulu dancing around his South African kingdom in celebration of another successful battle.

Babylon – The instrumentation on this one sounds like imminent doom is approaching, while faint wah-wah guitar licks and even more faint drums try to give the track some semblance of hope. Dre and Big Boi spit compelling verses and Andrea Martin’s (rip) chilling vocals on the hook keep this record interesting.

Wailin – The instrumentation on this one sounds like it’s the little brother to “Wheelz Of Steel,” and I had no idea that the wailing voice in between verses was that of Cee-Lo‘s (I blame that on ATLiens’ convoluted liner notes). While I’d much rather hear a meaty sixteen from Mr. Green, I enjoyed his gritty soulful moaning over Organized Noize’s southern fried production work.

Mainstream – Goodie Mob’s Khujo and T-Mo join Dre and Big Boi on this weary ON produced backdrop, as they all take turns discussing how one’s naivety and bad choices can lead to their demise. Per usual, Andre turns in a dope verse, but Khujo’s abstract verse delivered in his signature angry vocal tone was impressive as well.

Decatur Psalm – Big Boi is joined by Big Gipp and Cool Breeze to discuss some of the drama and illegal business that goes down in dem Decatur streets. I wasn’t crazy about Big Boi and his guests’ content or subject matter (which is probably why 3 Stacks sat this one out), but I did enjoy the soothing vocals of Joi, Whild Peach and Trina on the hook and the gloomy instrumental sounds better today than it did back in ‘96.

Millennium – Organized Noize orchestrates a dark layered mid-tempo bop that’s finds a depressed Andre rapping about his struggles to mentally maintain, while Boi is just looking for some unity in his community (I love his “they don’t feel like marching ‘cause they shoes is overrun” line). Dre’s humming on the hook is borderline annoying and the guest female (ShaJuanna Edghill) who rambles on about “planets, stars, clothes, hoes, cars, etc.” sounds like she high on heroin. Yet in still, I enjoyed this one.

E.T. (Extraterrestrial) – OutKast says “the hell with drums” and decides to spit over dark mysterious chords, eerie otherworldly sounds, and a faint war chant in the background, while EJ Tha Witch Doctor stops by again to sing the hook, celebrating are hosts’ extraterrestrialness. Dre and Boi do a solid job on this one and the uniquely quirky production is truly…out of this world.

13th Floor/Growing Old – This one begins with solemn piano notes and Big Rube sharing a conscious poem (which would become tradition on OutKast’s albums) that explains the meaning and importance of the number thirteen. The second half of this record incorporates the same piano chords, along with simple drums and Debra Killings comes back to sing the sad hook, while Stacks and Boi rap about change, maturity and death. Dre’s poetic closing bars sum things up best: “Fat titties turn to teardrops as fat ass turns to flab, sores that was open wounds eventually turn to scab, tress bright and green turn yellow-brown, autumn caught ‘em, see all them leaves must fall down growing old.” Those laws of nature even apply to the bosom and bottomed blessed naked Afro queen that graces the CD surface of ATLiens. Laugh to keep from crying.

Elevators (ONP 86 Mix) – The final record on ATLiens finds Organized Noize tampering with a masterpiece. The biggest difference in the two mixes is the absence of the sneaky bass line on this version, which makes all the difference in the world.

ATLiens will forever be remembered as the album that Andre 3000 made his metamorphosis from decent rapper to alien emcee (if you look close enough at the ATLiens’ album cover you’ll notice Dre’s Martian antennas peeking through his turban). On “Growing Old” 3 Stacks proclaims that he “takes this rap shit serious while others entertain,” and while he doesn’t waste a bar on ATLiens, each of his meaty sage like verses are wildly entertaining (we might have to partially credit Erykah Badu’s vagina for that). Big Boi, who is clearly not as lyrical as his partner, still manages to be an interesting B mic, and the contrast in the duo’s content provides a healthy balance of ratchetness and righteousness. Along with Dre’s lyrical maturation, Organized Noize and OutKast’s production would also continue to blossom, as they collectively construct an amazing soundscape of inconspicuously dark layered instrumentals for the Atlantis duo to comfortably maneuver through.

I can’t say that Andre and Big Boi were able to save the rest of hip-hop from the evil clutches of Nosamullii and his band of goons, but they definitely issued them an L with ATLiens. From top to bottom, ATLiens is an undeniable classic that still mesmerizes twenty-six years after its birth.


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The Gotee Brothers – Erace (August 20, 1996)

Gotee Records is a contemporary Christian music label based in Franklin, Tennessee (which is about twenty miles from Nashville) that was founded in 1994 by Joey Elwood, Todd Collins and Toby McKeehan (aka TobyMac, who a few of you may know as one third of the Christian rock/rap group, DC Talk, who were pretty popular during the late eighties/early nineties). The label began as a production company, but when the white male trio were unable to get their all-Black female r&b group, Out Of Eden, a record deal, they decided to start their own label. Gotee Records would go on to launch the careers of several artist from different genres, including the Grits (rap), Christafari (reggae) and Jennifer Knapp (folk/rock), just to name a few. A few years after the label was up and running, Joey, Todd and Toby decided it was time to step from behind the scenes to the forefront as artists, collectively calling themselves The Gotee Brothers. The GB’s would release their debut album, Erace in 1996.

The album cover for Erace is a 3Dish photo, which depending on the angle you look at it reflects Frederick Douglass or some white colonizer (and some angles give you a weird mix of the two), and underneath the plural photo it reads “A project to eliminate racism.” The Gotee Brothers are credited with producing the entirety of the album but would receive heaps of help from their musician friends and a few artists from their label. Erace would be the only project released by The Gotee Brothers as a group, but they would continue to co-exist as label owners and the label is still running and functioning well to this day.

I discovered Erace during my secular music sabbatical in the late nineties. It’s been a long minute since I’ve listened to it, so let’s see how it sounds all these moons later.

Yoknapatawpha (A Mental Mississippi) – What I found in my Google search is: Yoknapatawpha is a fictional county, fictitiously located in northwestern Mississippi. The author, William Faulkner dreamt it up and often used it as the setting for the characters in several of his novels. Over a jazz-funk fused jam session (that includes some great piano solos and a silly hillbilly moment), Brothers Gotee use this opening track to mentally transport to Mississippi as they express their appreciation for southern living through abstract bars. I wasn’t crazy about the rhymes (although the uncredited female rapper who pops in for a quick second, did come off a little bit), but the hook is catchy, and the instrumentation is a whole entire vibe.

Celia (Queen Of The Senseless World) – Brothers Gotee are joined by Bonafide (one-half of the rap group Grits, who were signed to Gotee Records at the time) on this ode to a young Mississippi girl named Celia, who has come of age and been “pricked of her thorns detached from the vine,” which is a fancy way of saying she strayed from God and started sinnin’. Lisa Kimmey (one-third of Out of Eden, who I mentioned in the opening of this post) sings from the perspective of a struggling Celia, as the fellas encourage the “crooked letter Cinderella” to continue to fight the good fight of faith despite her shortcomings. I enjoyed this one, especially the smooth funk groove that it’s built on.

Sweet Tea – Our hosts use their favorite southern beverage as the focal point to reminisce about growing up in the Deep South and the good times spent with family. Bonafide drops in again and steals the show with a dope closing verse that makes this mediocre trip down memory lane sound somewhat interesting. This song is followed by a short snippet of some random dude (who sounds a lot like Bill Withers) discussing the difference between Black dialect and slang, and based on his usage of terms like groovy, out of sight and “white blue-eyed soul brothers and sisters,” this was clearly taken from some form of media circa the seventies.

Poetry, Prose & Other Sundry Items – The poetry and prose portions of this song come in the form of a collage of quotes about racism and equality from Joey, Todd and Toby, and the “other sundry items” include some pretty amazing singing from Lisa Kimmey and Kevin Smith (not to be confused with the filmmaker of the same name), and bassy sophisticatedly funky instrumentation.

Wages Of Sin – This one starts out with Spinners “I’ll Be Around” vibes before morphing into a hippyish musical scheme that our hosts use to address the racial sins of their ancestors: “Looking for the paths beyond this lunacy, I burnt my hands while touching history, never can agree always disagree, our heads are full of waste, a mental eulogy, so now we paid the price from our fathers’ dice, I wouldn’t do the things they’ve done but now I wear their vice.” It’s not a great song, but I respect these brothers for acknowledging their white privilege.

New South (The Gotee Idyll) – The band creates a bluesy southern atmosphere (complete with Deep South gut-wrenching soulful harmonica chords) for one of the Gotee boys (I’m not sure which one) to lament the sins of his father, seek redemption, praise God and reclaim the south: “Oh things have changed since I was a boy, my father’s past is something I can’t avoid, I asked my preacher who lived through the storm, he said ‘Son, my hands ain’t clean but my soul’s been reborn.’” The content of this song leaves you with a lot to chew on, while the instrumentation is hard to resist.

One Of Monk’s Dreams (Interlude) – Based on the title and The Gotee Brother’s low-key obsession with Mississippi on Erace, I’m guessing this instrumental interlude is an inside reference to Thelonious Monk’s “Bright Mississippi” record from his Monk’s Dream album. Anyhow, the African drums mixed with rock guitar chords were mildly enjoyable.

Brothers Keeper – This song is built around Genesis 4:9, where God asks Cain about Abel’s whereabouts (in the previous verse, we learn that Cain murdered Abel) and Cain snarkily responds “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The GB’s invite an uncredited female vocalist to revisit Cain’s infamous question on the hook, while they respond with a yes and define who their “brother” is: “Prior to elaborating I must define, who is my brother, who is my kind, who gets the props when I gets to drop, the birds of a feather, they stick together, forever we’ve been thinking that our kind is our race, but all of us got two eyes, a nose and a face, pride in the past is a serious bind, but aren’t we to have some pride in mankind? I am my brother’s keeper to this I am agreeing, but I define my brother as another human being.” Some of the rhymes sound a little too simplistic, but the message is positive and I kind of enjoyed the dark undertones in the music.

I Don’t Understand – Our hosts and company build this instrumental around a portion of George Benson’s “Breezin’” as they question and ponder why all humankind just can’t get along (shoutout to the late Rodney King). Some of the rhyming on this one gets super elementary and extra cheesy, but it’s nearly impossible to mess up the infectious groove that is “Breezin’.”

Dancing With The Stars – This instrumental interlude features an acoustic guitar dueling (or dancing) with a flamenco guitar, resulting in an emotional two-minute musical adventure.

Why Can’t We Be Friends – This time around The Gotee Brothers tinker with War’s classic seventies record of the same name. It makes for a decent cover, with the biggest differences being that our hosts invite Mark “Tansoback” Mohr from the Christian reggae band Christafari (who were also signed to Gotee Records at the time) to chant on the verses instead of sing, and War properly placed a question mark at the end of the song title.

Say Amen – This interlude features a potent portion of Pastor Chris Williamson’s sermon on racism in America, placed over a somberly soulful backdrop (it’s worth noting that Pastor Williamson was also a pioneering Christian rapper with a group called Transformation Crusade back in the late eighties/early nineties). This was powerful. I would love to hear this sermon in its entirety.

Hidden Track – Brothers Gotee bring back “New South” as a hidden track to close out Erace. It’s pretty much the same as the original mix, just substituting the keyboards chords with twangy guitar plucks.

I have and will always love and respect the art of sampling. The hood ingenuity (that blossomed from economic restraints) to take a short fragment of a record (or several records) and turn it into a completely brand-new musical experience is simply genius. But as much as I love dusty jazz and soul loops placed over sampled drums and boom bap beats, there is something uniquely special about live instrumentation. Over the course of Erace’s thirteen tracks, The Gotee Brothers and company create a cohesive jam session with live instrumentation, as they stand proud in their southern roots, ashamed of their ancestors’ transgressions and attempt to rectify racism in America through their music, sprinkling their Christian beliefs into the batter without sounding preachy. The Gotee Brothers aren’t great rappers or superb lyricists, but what they lack in talent, they make up for in sincerity, humility and intent. Plus, most of the music sounds pretty good.

Obviously, The Gotee Brothers didn’t rid America of racism with Erace. But even if they were able to change the heart of one person with their message and music, that’s progress.


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Blahzay Blahzay – Blah Blah Blah (August 13, 1996)

Blahzay Blahzay is a Brooklyn based duo made up of the emcee, Outloud and his deejay compadre, PF Cuttin, which is an amazing alias for a deejay. Blahzay Blahzay will forever be remembered for their hit record (or at least regional sensation), “Danger,” which was an East Coast boom bap anthem that hit radio during the summer of 1995 and was officially released as a single the following September. Despite the buzz the duo created with “Danger,” Blahzay Blahzay wouldn’t follow up with another single for another eight months and would finally release their debut album in August of ‘96 on Mercury Records, cleverly titled, Blah Blah Blah.

All thirteen tracks (three of which are interludes or skits) on Blah would be produced by Blahzay Blahzay. Strangely, the label didn’t release another single after the album dropped and the project went underpromoted and virtually unnoticed, which would lead to the end of Blahzay Blahzay’s relationship with Mercury. The Blahs would release a three-song maxi-single on Game Recordings in 1999 (which included a nice nine-page fold-up poster of the “Game Girl,” Jenna Lopez, who unfortunately has more clothing on in the poster than she does on the cover artwork for the maxi-single), but a full album would never materialize. The duo would again emerge in 2018, releasing their second album, ENYthyng Iz Possible on the independent German label, Smoke On Records, but like me, I’m sure you’ve never heard it either.

I have heard the Blah album, though. It’s been a long while, so in honor of its twenty-six anniversary which just passed last weekend, let’s revisit it together and allow me to break it down, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Intro – Over stuttering drums, a faintly sassy horn sample and a drowsy acoustic guitar loop, Outloud and PF Cuttin welcome the listener to the album, apologize for taking so long to release the album (in a roundabout way), awkwardly remind the consumer that you “can’t take it back, you bought the album already,” and finally, they promise to explain what the “Blahs” means and to make you feel (“like pliers on your nuts”) what the “Blahs” is. Sounds painful, but I’m gonna hold them to it.

Blah, Blah, Blah – The first track of the night is built around dope drums and a pretty piano loop that finds Outloud in battle mode looking to prove that he’s the “Fabulous Vocabulist” that he proclaims to be at the beginning of the second verse. Outloud gets off some pretty sharp bars and you immediately notice the similarities in he and Jeru The Damaja’s style. Regardless, this makes for a solid opening track.

Medina’s In Da House – This short interlude apes portions of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” to set up the next song…

Danger Part 2 – Part 2 of Blahzay Blahzay’s biggest hit turns into a Brooklyn cipher session, as Outloud is joined by Trigger Tha Gambler, LA The Darkman, Smooth Da Hustler, and of course if Smoothe or Trigger are involved, the East Coast Nate Dogg, DV Alias Khryst is going to show up, as he closes out the record with a few manly moans and groans. Despite Outloud’s “tail between your ass” mishap (in hindsight, his “think we one hit wonder” line was also pretty amusing), all four emcees sound hungry, focused and locked in over this rugged boom bap beat that replaces the Ol’ Dirty Bastard “danger” snippet with a clever flip of a Biggie soundbite but wisely keeps the Gwen McCrae moan from the original track. My only issue with this record is its placement on the album, as the original should have come first, but this joint is fire!

Don’t Let This Rap Shit Fool You – The Blahs mix a wicked bass line with a muted organ loop that sounds like it’s swimming underwater, and Outloud sends warnings to anyone who thinks he’s gotten soft since getting a record deal: “It’s absurd, ‘cause you heard the way I talk and speak, from that alone should have known how I walk the street, go ahead and grab the breaka burners, you wanna combinate, and I’ll abominate, like the seed of hate just wait, you want to give it, then you definitely not seeing vivid, not like the rest talkin’ mess and don’t live it, ‘cause if I jeopardize my future, ‘cause I have to shoot ya’, for being connivin’, word to moms you ain’t survivin’, now ya got the blues, I’m the man you not should choose, a lot to lose, baby need new shoes, so my uzi ooze, don’t let this rap shit fool, get yourself in a duel, it ain’t cool, shit is different in the new school.” This was hard.

Pain I Feel – Don’t let the song title fool you. Outloud continues to issue verbal lashings on any would be competitors, as well as the soulful instrumental backing his verbal darts.

Posse Jumpa – Outloud is joined by Mental Magician and LA The Darkman on this one, as the three emcees takes turns reprimanding dudes and warning them of the dangers that come with constantly changing crews. Strange subject matter, but all parties involved handle it fairly well and the nasty rock guitar riff paired with the ill piano loop sounds super dope.

Maniac Cop – Skit that sets up the next song…

Good Cop/Bad Cop – Outloud tries his hand at storytelling on this one, as he raps from the perspective of a crooked racist cop, detailing the wicked shenanigans of he and his “good cop” partner. Outloud proves to be a decent storyteller, but he sounds much more entertaining spittin’ battle raps and talking shit. Plus, this instrumental sounds parched.

Sendin’ Dem Back – This is probably my favorite joint on Blah. Our hosts hook up tribal like drums that sound epic when paired with the dope Kung Fu flick chords. Speaking of Kung-Fu flicks, Outloud gets off one potent verse and kicks all types of ass with his lyrical Taekwondo, before handing the song over to vocalist, Tanya Brewer, who issues a few warnings to any sucka emcees or singers thinking of stepping to her. This is a certified banger.

Long Winded –  Outloud’s joined by Verbal Fist (who reminds me of Jeru’s protégé, Afu-Ra), Mental Magician and Verbal Hoods on this posse joint. Each emcee stands their ground, but the true star of this record is the creepy instrumental and the semi-haunted partially drunken piano loop that its built upon.

Jackpot – Outloud stays in war mode, showcasing more of his battle-ready bars over this dark and rigid backdrop.

Danger – The final song on Blah is also the song that introduced the world to Blahzay Blahzay. The fellas swipe a loop from Gwen McCrae’s “Rockin’ Chair” for the dusty backdrop that not only uses classic snippets from ODB and Jeru The Damaja (who along with Gang Starr and Fat Joe, appears in the video for this song), but it also includes a Q-Tip soundbite (“Oh My God!”) taken from the Beastie Boys’ “Get It Together” off their Ill Communication album (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check). This song was well over a year old by the time Blah was released, but it’s a classic record that will forever define Blahzay Blahzay’s musical existence, so they had to tact it on to the album. Side note: On the “Danger” maxi-single (that also includes “Danger Part 2”) there’s a Premo remix that’s worth checking out.

After just a few listens to Blah Blah Blah, it becomes crystal clear that Blahzay Blahzay were influenced by the Gang Starr Foundation. Outloud’s voice, cadence and delivery sound undeniably similar to Jeru The Damaja’s, while the duo’s style of boom bap beats and PF Cuttin’s crisp cuts are kindred spirit to Premo’s iconic brand of production and scratches. There’s a thin line between imitation and inspiration, and while that line gets severely blurred on Blah Blah Blah, there’s no denying it’s an entertaining listen. Besides, can you really call it biting if the fathers of your style co-sign for you?

Over the course of the album, Outloud proves to be a more than capable emcee, spittin’ smart and strong battle-ready bars in his authoritative preacher-like vocal tone over he and Cuttin’s rough and dusty beats that capture the true essence of nineties East Coast hip-hop, culminating into a hidden gem of an album that’s far from…blah.

During the “Intro,” Blahzay Blahzay promises to explain what the Blahs means and to make you feel Blahzay Blahzay “like crimp pliers on your nuts.” I still don’t know what the meaning or origin is of their name, but the music definitely lives up to the crimp pliers metaphor.


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Nine – Cloud 9 (August 6, 1996)

When (or if) I get to heaven, there are a list of things I have to do. First things first, I have to see God’s face, then I can go reunite with my ancestors who passed on before me. After I check those two tasks off the list, I have a series of questions I want to ask God: What was the true meaning of life? Why did he create the earth, sun, moon and stars? Followed by: Did OJ really kill Nicole? Was Jussie Smollett lying? And finally, why was Nine so underappreciated as an emcee? I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again: Nine Double M is as talented a rapper as they come, lacking none of the attributes that make up a dope emcee. He has one of the illest voices of all-time, a captivating delivery, a slew of charisma and most importantly, he’s a dope lyricist. His 1995 debut album, Nine Livez, was a damn near flawless album (yes, that Froggy Frog shit was corny, but that’s why I said damn near flawless) that I personally deem classic, yet the masses have overlooked it and it has all but been forgotten in the annuls of hip-hop. Despite Nine Livez being severely slept on and a commercial failure, Profile Records would stick behind the gravelly voiced emcee, as Nine would release his sophomore effort, Cloud 9 in August of 1996.

The liner notes for Cloud 9 are filled with a bunch of facts about the number nine. Nine (whose alias is derived from his birth date, September 19, 1969) shares that “The number nine has three qualities: Universality, War and Completion,” and that “There are nine planets that govern the twelve zodiac signs.” Then he throws in a bunch of super random factoids like “There are nine natural holes in the body,” “full term pregnancy is nine months,” but the most ludicrous one of them all: “The sum of nine times any number equals nine,” then he lists a series of examples to prove this mathematical theory. What a waste of paper. Nine would call on his old buddy, Rob Lewis (who’s credit with producing most of Nine Livez) to produce all but two tracks on Cloud 9, and he would invite a few special guests to make cameos on a few songs on the album. Like its predecessor, Cloud 9 would produce dismal sales numbers and Profile would only push one single from the album, so it was no surprise that the two parties would go their separate ways after this second outing (which is a nice way of saying Profile dropped Nine from the label). Nine would go on to release some independent albums (his 2018 Snowgoons produced album, King, is super dope), but he would never get another chance to display his skills with the backing of a major label, ultimately fading into the black hole of obscurity.

Is Cloud 9 another underappreciated album from my favorite unsung/underdog emcee? Or is it worthy of the overlook? Let’s get into it.

Know Introduction – The volume of this opening track starts on zero, which if you’re listening to Cloud 9 for the first time might cause you to turn up the volume on your radio or cell phone. The music gradually creeps up until your ears are bombarded by the unnerving backdrop that conjures up visuals of grey skies and King Kong getting ready to destroy the Empire State Building. Unexpectedly and sort of randomly, the first voice you hear on the album is that of the Shaolin representative, King Just, who gets off a quick verse and sounds pretty sharp with the bars. After a brief pause, Nine jumps into the ring and beats up the spooky track with his gully voice and grim bars: “I’m on the roof like the fiddler, bustin’ shots, bringing pain like a wisdom tooth, murder devils and hide they bodies like the truth…I’m paranoid, that’s why I keep steel, ’cause I know I ain’t the only nigga that’s real.” This was a dim but entertaining way to open the album.

Every Man 4 Himself – The mood quickly shifts from grey skies and oversized mythological guerrillas terrorizing New York City to one of the coldest and most callous instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Nine’s raspy voice matches the temperature and heartlessness of the track as he spits from a mentality of “somewhere between Armageddon and apocalypse” and gets off what is probably my favorite Nine line of all-time: “I feel like a soldier stuck behind enemy lines, in the world of man-evil, ’cause man ain’t kind.” This is definitely one of my favorite joints on Cloud 9.

We Play 4 Keeps – Rob Lewis sticks with Cloud 9’s dark musical theme and serves up this layered cinematic up-tempo banger that finds a hopeless and violent Nine confessing his allegiance to the street life and the pursuit of the almighty dollar until death do. Hopefully his mentality has changed since then, but it still makes for an enjoyable record.

Tha Product – Rob Lewis builds this instrumental around an ill violin loop that gives the track a symphonic feel and serves as a beacon of light in all the darkness that Cloud 9 has brought on the listener’s ears to this point. That is until the somber xylophone loop interrupts and brings the mood back to a gloomy room. Nine invites U-Neek (who sounds similar to Def Squad affiliate, Passion and based on the pic inside the liner notes, is a cutie) to the party, as the two freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson; a gutter hip-hop version of course.

Uncivilized – This is one of the two tracks that Rob Lewis didn’t produce on Cloud 9. Instead, a Rock Wrecka loops up a sorrowful violin sample that gives off classical vibes, as Nine addresses the struggle to live upright while maintaining in this cold and cruel world. Father Shaheed from Poor Righteous Teachers drops by to provide an authoritative hook that helps drive home Nine’s content. Well done.

No Part A Me – The first half of Cloud 9 ends with a grimy stripped-down instrumental mixed with underlying evil chords that finds Nine salivating like a hungry lion as he awaits raw meat being dropped in his den in the form of an unassuming emcee. This was hard.

Lyin’ King – This was the lead (and only) single released from Cloud 9. No, this isn’t an ode to Mufasa and Simba (which you probably could figure out based on the spelling of “Lyin” in the song title), but instead, Nine uses the soulfully moody backdrop to call out those rappers who spit lies in their raps: “Fans bought the wolf ticket, shitted on reality for fantasy, produced by Tattoo and Mr. Roarke Records, on a real island, yo ass won’t be whilin’ or smilin’, who’s the character, with gold records and life still harder than Attica? Niggas is backwards…I sold drugs and wanted to rap, now niggas rap and wanna sell drugs, ghetto celebrities wanna be thugs, but when the slugs start flyin’, and the beast comes they start cryin’, lyin’ wishin’, hard-core gangstas turn into born again Christians.” This one still sounds great.

Richman Poorman (Act One) – Jesse West doesn’t only get the production credit on this one, but (under the alias of 3rd Eye) he also plays Nine’s partner in crime, literally. West builds the instrumental around a soulful piano loop that he and Nine use to act out a bank robbery that doesn’t end well for the duo based on the skit at the end of the song that also bleeds into the next record.

Jon Doe – Not to be confused with the pseudonym used for an unidentified male body (John Doe). Nine’s alias, Jon Money Doe, lives by the motto of “cream in abundance, thousands of hundreds,” which he pretty much reiterates over the course of the song’s three verses. Nine’s message feels mundane, but I enjoyed the harp-like chords and the bleak feel of the instrumental.

Make Or Take – Nine sticks with the “cream by any means” theme that has dominated most of the album, as he uses Rob Lewis’ sadden backdrop that’s laced with a sweetly somber horn loop, to stand firm on his make it whether “rhyme or crime” philosophy (by the way, “In the race, the great paper chase, money’s the only thing that Imma let you throw in my face” is a great line). Smoothe Da Hustler stops by to add the hook, which has always made me wonder why Nine didn’t let him get off a verse as well (Could it be he didn’t want to get murdered on his own shit?). Even with the under usage of Smoothe, this was fire.

Warrior – Bounty Killer joins 9 Double M on this raw war chant of an instrumental, adding a dancehall flavor to the track. I’ve never cared much for this record, but it doesn’t sound as bad today as it did twenty-six years ago. The hook is still ass, though.

4 Chicken Wings And Rice (1991) – For the final song of the evening, Rob Lewis hooks up a melancholic backsplash that Nine uses to get into his “woe is me” bag, recalling the days when he was dead broke (I must have listened to this song a million times through the years and just recently, Nine’s line “my pockets had rabbit ears” stood out to me and the visual made me literally laugh out loud. I know. I’m an asshole). It’s not a great record, but decent and a fitting way to end this dimly lit affair.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but every now and then, an album cover tells you exactly what you can expect to hear in its music. Such is the case with Cloud 9. Calling the content on Cloud 9 dark would be a severe understatement. This shit is pitch black. It’s so black it makes Whoopi Goldberg’s lips, the back of Forrest Whittaker’s neck and Wesley Snipes’ skin look white (shoutout to the late great, Bernie Mack). Rob Lewis (who ironically is white) and friends craft a masterful batch of dark and desolate instrumentals that Nine navigates with the comfort of his living room couch, spewing rhymes full of hopeless desperation, pessimism, self-loathing, mercenarism and sprinkles of bully raps, all delivered in his menacing raspy voice.

Cloud 9 is a phrase that’s normally used to express elation and joy. Nine’s version is quite the contrast. acting as a dark cloud hovering over you for forty-three minutes without the protection of shelter or an umbrella, leaving you forced to get soaked in his sorrow and pain. Cloud 9 doesn’t come with radio friendly singles or commercial ambition, just great instrumentals and intriguing bars from a disgruntled and talented emcee, resulting in a darkly, excuse me, blackly entertaining listen.


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UGK – Ridin’ Dirty (July 30, 1996)

Along with Beats, Rhymes And Life, Ridin’ Dirty celebrated it’s twenty-six birthday this past Saturday. Happy Birthday, and I hope you all enjoy the read.

With the abundance of hip-hop artists that seemed to be coming on the scene daily back in the mid-nineties, it was easy to miss or overlooked an artist here or there. UGK aka Underground Kingz, was one of those groups that I overlooked. I became familiar with UGK back in ‘93 from the remix of “Pocket Full Of Stones,” which was on the Menace II Society Soundtrack, and even though I wasn’t listening to secular hip-hop in ‘99, there was no way of not hearing their monster collab hit record with Jay-Z, “Big Pimpin’.” It wouldn’t be until well into the new millennium that I’d bump into used copies of the Port Arthur, Texas duo’s first two albums, Too Hard To Swallow and Super Tight. I enjoyed enough of the music from the two albums (especially Super Tight) to add UGK to my list of catalogs to track down, and a few years ago I found a used copy of their third album and the subject of today’s post, Ridin’ Dirty.

UGK would lean (no pun intended) heavily on Pimp C and N.O. Joe to provide the soundscape for Ridin’ Dirty. Oddly enough, UGK didn’t release any singles from Ridin’ Dirty, but it would still manage to earn the duo their first gold plaque and become the best-selling album in their entire catalog; and many consider it their best work.

This is my first time listening to Ridin’ Dirty, so without further delay, let’s jump into to. And continue to rest easy, Chad “Pimp C” Butler.

IntroRidin’ Dirty opens with soulful organ chords and our incarcerated narrator for the evening, Smoke D (who also spit a few bars on Super Tight), shares a few words about living behind bars, before the first song of the album starts.

One Day – The first actual song of the night is built around an interpolation of a portion of an Isley Brothers record (the same one used for the instrumental for Boss’ “Recipe Of A Hoe”), which creates the bluesy mood for UGK and their guest, 3-2’s dim content about how fast life can change or even worse, end. 3-2’s (who also receives a co-production credit next to Pimp C for this track) request to be buried next to the local convenience store (Come N Go) is both comical and sad to think someone could be so hopelessly enslaved by the streets that they’d want their dead body to dwell next to their slang spot for the rest of eternity. Bun B and Pimp C’s verses aren’t any more uplifting, as they reminisce about dead homies and incarcerated friends, before Pimp C sends my fatherly anxiety through the roof when he mentions his homie’s son who died in a house fire. The content is dark, but like all great records, whether dark, inspiring or fun, the object is to make you feel something, and UGK accomplishes that with this song. Back to the Isley Brothers for a second. Since the instrumental is built around one of their records, I assumed that the falsetto male vocalist singing the hook and adlibs was the incomparable, Ron Isley. So, when I opened the liner notes and read “Ronnie Spencer” as the guest vocalist and not Mr. Big, I nearly shit on myself. This guy (Ronnie Spencer) sounds exactly like Ron, down to the “Well, well, wells” and “La-da-da-da’s.” I mean, he sounds great, but the plagiarism is troublesome.

Murder – This one begins with a heavily accented gentleman (sounds Puerto Rican or Cuban) unleashing a slew of “mofos,” but his accent is so thick, and his words are so mumbled, other than the “mofos,” I have no idea what he’s saying. Then Pimp C lays down a funky bass line matched with simple but hard trappish drums for he and his partner in rhyme, Bun B to flex over with drug dealer inspired rhymes. Pimp delivers a solid verse with his turn, but Bun completely obliterates this instrumental. This was dope.

Pinky Ring – This track has Curtis Mayfield Super Fly vibes written all over it, which makes sense, considering it’s built around a loop from his “Future Shock” record. Fittingly, Bun and Pimp talk their pimp/player shit all over the track, while Pimp and Kristi Floyd sing a Curtis Mayfield-esque hook. Every time I hear Pimp C mention that “twenty-ounce steak and some fried side of shrimp” I start salivating.

Diamonds & Wood – This one begins with a few more words from Smoke D. Then Pimp C invites a few of his musician friends to reinterpret a portion of a funky Bootsy Collins record (“Munchies For Your Love”) to create a dark bluesy groove. Pimp and Bun use it to lament the street life, sharing all the stresses and struggles that come with it, while guest vocalist, Reginald Hackett, somberly croons on the hook to drive home the duo’s pain. I don’t know what “diamonds up against that wood” means, but I know this record is fire.

3 In The Mornin’ – UGK sticks with the street theme, but unlike the previous joint that had a reflective perspective, this song finds Pimp and Bun, along with their guest, Big Smokin’ Mitch, celebrating drug dealing, weed smoking and lean drinking. The Sergio produced instrumental is decent, but the content, as well as 3-2’s annoying hook, is very forgettable. This song is followed by an interlude that finds a gentleman who identifies as DJ Bird and an uncredited male, instructing the listener to “flip that motherfucka over” if you’re listening to Ridin’ Dirty on cassette, and if you’re listening on CD, to “let that motherfucka roll.” This applies to almost none of you, whom I’m sure are listening to this via a DSP, but whatever.

Touched – The second half of Ridin’ Dirty begins with Smoke D getting into his homophobic bag. N.O. Joe then continues the mellow energy that ended the first half of the album with this borderline boring synth backdrop that Pimp and Bun curiously, use to issue threats of physical harm to anyone who attempts to try these southern boys, while 3-2 gets off yet another horrible hook.

Fuck My Car – UGK dedicates this one to all the ladies they feel are only interested in having sex with them because of their fancy rides. That must be a humbling revelation, but I’m sure they’re still okay with taking the pussy that comes with it. Oh, the song? It’s passable.

That’s Why I Carry – The Puerto Rican cat from the beginning of “Murder” returns to vehemently express his love for UGK, before going on another rant about, only God knows what. He’s interrupted by Bun B who goes on a short angry rant of his own, before N.O. Joe nearly puts me to sleep with this aimlessly drowsy synthesized hot mess of an instrumental. B and C don’t help matters, either, as they spew stale rhymes about “playa haters and bitch ass niggas” and all the reasons why they carry heat in these streets. In the words of Charles Barkley: “This was turrible.”

Hi Life – More penitentiary commentary from Smoke D, followed by a decent N.O. Joe produced instrumental (with co-credit going to Pimp C). Pimp and Bun continue their discussion of street politics, that randomly includes C calling out shady pastors in the pulpit, while Bun gets off arguably his best verse of the album, as he explains the reasons hood dudes resort to crime: “Who gives a damn, when you can’t afford the turkey or ham? Living off of ramen noodles, beef jerky and spam, now that’s sad, but that’s a fact of life, all I can see in front of me is up for grabs, come off your slabs, ’cause poverty’ll push a nigga over the brink, over the edge, especially if you don’t know your ledge.” It’s not a great record, but a vast improvement from the previous three songs.

Good Stuff – Sergio gets is second and final production credit of the night, as he reinterprets The Fatback Band’s “Backstrokin’,” while UGK gets flossy all over it. Next…

Ridin’ Dirty – Our mumbling Puerto Rican homie returns for one last unintelligible rant, before the deliciously jazzy instrumentation (built around portions of Wes Montgomery’s “Angel”) comes in for UGK to pay homage to driving illegally, or as we used to call it up here in the north, “drivin’ hot.” Whether legally or illegally, this makes for great music to roll to.

Outro – After one last Smoke D interlude (this time he’s giving penitentiary etiquette), UGK reprises the instrumental from “Diamonds & Wood,” slowing it down a bit and transforming it into a bluesy eight minute plus jam session, complete with monster wah wah guitar solos, that Pimp C uses to give his shoutouts over. This jam session could have gone on for another half an hour as far as I’m concerned; it’s that good.

After enjoying UGK’s first two albums, I was looking forward to hearing how the duo would progress on Ridin’ Dirty. On their third release, Bun B and Pimp C continue to show growth as lyricists and develop a solid chemistry, which is on full display for most of the first half of the album, but things seem to stall at the midway point of the album. Except for the title track and the extraordinary “Outro” (which might be my new favorite “Outro” of all-time), the production on the second half of the album is lackluster and UGK’s bars start to sound hollowly redundant. Ridin’ Dirty isn’t a terrible album, but it didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it based on UGK’s output on their two previous albums.


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A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes And Life (July 30, 1996)

By July of 1996, it had been almost three years since A Tribe Called Quest had blessed the world with one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time (see Midnight Marauders), which was also the back end of arguably, the greatest two consecutive album combo by an artist of any genre (with The Low End Theory being the first half). There had been rumblings of possible beef between Phife (who had moved to Atlanta sometime after Midnight Marauders was released) and Tip during the group’s hiatus, but regardless of the rumors, A Tribe Called Quest would return intact in ‘96 to release their fourth album, Beats, Rhymes And Life.

For Beats, Rhymes And Life (which is a great album title, by the way), Tribe would make some notable changes to the team. On the production side, they would add J-Dilla to the fold, as he, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad would collectively call themselves The Ummah, producing all but one track on BRL. They would also invite Q-Tip’s blood cousin, Consequence (who I first heard back in ‘93, rhyming over “The Chase II” instrumental, which was a B-side joint on the “Oh My God” single, and I immediately thought he sounded like a lisped version of AZ) to rhyme on a handful of the album’s tracks. BRL debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200, would earn a gold plaque two months after its release (and eventually certified platinum) and would be the group’s fourth consecutive album to become certified gold or better (it’s also worth noting that all six of Tribe’s albums have been RIAA certified gold or better). Along with its commercial success and accolades, BRL also received mostly positive reviews, but it’s reception on the streets were mixed, as some didn’t like the changes in the group and felt they were getting away from their original sound to chase commercial success.

As I’m sure you’ve already formulated, this is the third component (along with It Was Written and Stakes Is High) to my summer of ‘96 soundtrack. I’ve always loved this album, but I’ll revisit it with an open mind and see if the harsh criticism it received was justified.

Random thought: Is it just me or did the electronic female tour guide on the album cover get thicker since the Midnight Marauders sessions?

Phony Rappers – The first song on BRL finds Tip, Phife and Cons calling out overzealous inspiring emcees aka phony rappers. The first verse consists of Tip “fuckin’ up the head” of a Puerto Rican kid who challenges him to a battle on the train, before Phife puts the “verbal assault” on some chump at the mall who doesn’t think he’s worthy of his occupation. The fellas then get off a second round of venting, with Consequence jumping into the mix. Tip, eloquently provides the moral of the story with one simple line: “Just because you rhyme for a couple of weeks, doesn’t mean that you’ve reached an emcee’s peak.” The Ummah’s colorfully jazzy soundscape compliments the fellas lighthearted content, perfectly. The song ends with a snippet of a speech from an uncredited speaker, and I’ve never been sure of its context or purpose.

Get A Hold – The track begins with a haunting vocal snippet that is quickly joined by a thick bass line and bangin’ drums to create a dark hypnotic groove. Tip gets his first dolo joint of the evening, attacking the monster backdrop like “a rhymin’ ass creature,” spittin’ sharp bars and dropping plenty of gems along the way. This is an underappreciated mammoth of a banger that has Dilla’s genius written all over it.

Motivators – Phife, Tip and Cons embrace this cool little diddly of a beat by letting their hair down and having some fun, while, humbly, proclaiming their prominence in hip-hop. Phife sums up the song perfectly on its opening bars: “This here groove was made for vintage freestylin’, feelin’ like I’m chillin’ on a Caribbean Island.” I’ve never been to a Caribbean Island, but if this song matches its vibe, I’m down to go.

Jam – Over scorching hot organ chords and an ill guitar loop, Tip, Phife and Cons pass the mic around like a blunt, as the trio take turns sharing the happens of a hot summer night, full of partying and drinking. The party quickly ends when an argument leads to some dudes pullin’ their straps, which in turn leads to the police (aka Jake) responding. The song ends with a drunken Q-Tip rambling on to his crew about being tired of the same old shit (“I’m twenty-two years old, and I get crazy high every time I go to a party, man…and this stupid shit be jumpin’ off, man. I can’t have this no more…I’ve gotta find something new, man.”), which bleeds into the next song.

Crew – This song will always be etched in my memory as the time Q-Tip showed the world his gangsta side. The earnest and tense feel of the instrumental prepares the listener for the pending drama: Q-Tip catches his, so called, homie kissing his wife, which forces the Abstract Poetic to put down his peaceful pen and angrily pick up his gun, letting off three shots, that the listener is left to believe we’re aimed at Mr. and Mrs. Loose lips. The song ends with a bunch of screaming, leaving the listener to formulate their own opinion on the results of said ordeal.

The Pressure – Tip connects poppin’ drums with an intoxicatingly funky bass line, while Ali Shaheed Muhammad provides sharp cuts and scratches during the song’s intro. Most of Tip’s verse sounds like it could be Tribe’s mission statement and Phife continues to focus on eating up rival emcees with his. I’d say the fellas are handling the pressure pretty well, as they deliver yet another dope track.

1nce Again – This was the lead single from BRL. Tip and Phife revisit the hook from their classic record, “Check The Rhime” and invite Tammy Lucas (whose voice you probably recognize from the Heavy D record (and later, her own record), “Is It Good To You”) to sprinkle her vocals on the track, while the duo talk their shit and have a little fun on the mic. This record has always had an underlying aroma of commercial intent, but I still enjoy it.

Mind Power – Tribe kicks off the second half of BRL with this ultra-mellow smooth track that Tip, Cons and Phife calmly and effortlessly, dismantle. This irresistibly joint sounds like the epitome of what A Tribe Called Quest had stood for since 1990.

The Hop – This is the lone track on BRL that The Ummah didn’t produce. Instead, Rashad Smith (whose name has popped up on this blog quite a few times in the past) gets the credit for this melodic bop that Tip and Phife split mic time over. This infectious groove feels custom made for a summertime day party and it still sounds great today.

Keeping It Moving – The drunken rant that Tip went on at the end of “The Jam” is brought back and continues on at end of the last track and the beginning of this one. Then a stank twangy guitar riff and those familiar poppin’ drums come in to backup Tip, who shares his stance on the East Coast/West Coast beef that was almost at a boiling point by the time BRL was released: “Let me let y’all brothers know I ain’t no west coast disser, another thing I’m not is a damn ass kisser, so listen to my words as I set things straight, I ain’t got no beef, so don’t come in my face” Side note: On the album version of “KIM,” Tip starts the second verse off by saying “Hip-hop, a way of life,” but I also have a version of this song that I pirated off the dark web many moons ago (which also came with a few dirty cyber viruses that killed my now deceased labtop…rip) where Tip says “Hip-hop could never be a way of life”, which puts a different perspective on that bar. I’d love to ask Tip about that line and his true feelings on it. Regardless, I’ve always liked this record, as it makes for an enjoyable album cut.

Baby Phife’s Return – Q-Tip’s already had a handful of solo joints on BRL, so it’s about time that Phife gets one off too. Over an understated dark backdrop (created by Tip), Phife stays in emcee mode and gets off some pretty sharp bars in the process: “Kid, you know my flavor, tear this whole jam apart, fuck around I’ll have your heart, like Jordan had Starks’, while you playin’ hokey pokey, there’s no time to be dokey, cause I come out to play every night like Charles Oakley.” The song title makes the song sound grander than it actually is, but it’s still a solid joint.

Separate/Together – Tip gets off a quick verse about unity over an airy carefree melodic instrumental. Lyrically and musically, if “Crew” were yin, this record would be its yang.

What Really Goes On – I haven’t mentioned it up to this point, but Tip’s rhymes on BRL have been razor sharp, and he continues on that path with his final solo joint of the evening. Tip plays the builder and destroyer as he completely annihilates his dope mid-tempo backdrop (I love the seductive horn loop laced throughout the track). My only qualm with this record is the heavy censoring. I mean, did they really need to censor “hell”?

Word Play – Tip, Phife and Cons take turns calling out a word, then spend the rest of the bar giving the definition of said word/phrase, all over an extra creamy instrumental. This is definitely one of my favorite tracks on BRL.

Stressed Out – The final song of the night was also the second single released from BRL. Tip and Cons use this one to discuss the stresses of life that attempt to “take you off the right path” over a cute crispy clean instrumental that becomes pretty, once Faith Evan’s beautiful vocals bless the hook and adlibs. The single/video version of this song includes a completely different second verse than the album version, replacing Consequence’s verse with a Phife verse. This one always felt a bit contrived and is easily my least favorite joint on BRL.

On the same Jay-Z record that Nas infamously (and accurately) stated that Eminem murdered him on his own shit (see “Renegade”), he asked a profound question that I’d like to pose to those who shit on Beats, Rhymes And Life: “Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?”

I’ll admit, the two singles released from BRL (“1nce Again” and “Stressed Out”) had commercial sensibilities and sounded more designed to please the ear of the casual hip-hop fan than the dedicated ones. But if you go beneath the surface of the poppish music and r&b vocals on the singles, you’ll find an abundance of quality music on BRL. Lyrically, Q-Tip is as sharp as he would ever be, while Phife still had witty bars left in his arsenal, and the addition of Consequence (who proves to be a formidable emcee) serves as the perfect bridge between Kamaal’s philosophical approach and the battle focused Phife Dawg. With the presence of J-Dilla on the production end, the music on BRL sounds mildly more progressive than what the listener was accustomed to hearing from Tribe, but they still maintain their jazzy hip-hop integrity within the new clean and sheen sound. Yes, the popping drums get a little repetitive and BRL may not be as groundbreaking or a hip-hop landmark like The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders, but it’s still a great album in its own right, from one of the greatest groups to ever do it.

Living with BRL these past few weeks has been bittersweet, as it marks the start of the ending for my favorite hip-hop group of all time. Tribe would release two more group albums, but unfortunately, due to house fires, squabbling amongst group members and ultimately, death, neither project felt like a complete A Tribe Called Quest album. Maybe the crumbling city and chaotic scene behind the weary electronic tour guide struggling to plant the ATCQ flag in the ground on the album cover was foreshadowing the group’s fate.


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