Fat Joe – Jealous One’s Envy (October 24, 1995)

Through the years, Fat Joe has carved out a path for himself in hip-hop, and somehow has managed to stay relevant in the genre for nearly thirty years now. Arguably the weakest link in the DITC chain of talented emcees and producers, he’s easily had the most commercially successful career and the most longevity out of the collective, but after listening to his 1993 debut album, Represent, no one would have predicted that. Thanks largely (no pun intended) to his DITC bredrin’s quality production, Represent was a solid listen, but Sloppy Joe was definitely a little green on the mic and light on the lyrical side. Despite the album’s poor numbers and reviews, Joe would return two years later with his sophomore effort, Jealous One’s Envy.

For Jealous One’s Envy (which is also an acronym for “JOE”), Joe would rely less on his DITC family for production and call on mostly outside parties to provide the soundscape for the album. Jealous One’s Envy would peak at number 7 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and 71 on the Billboard Top 200, and received solid reviews from the critics.

Jealous One’s Envy is yet another album that I didn’t check for back in the day. Based on Joe’s debut and all the other fire releases that ’95 gave us, this one wasn’t a priority. I bought Jealous One’s Envy used for a dollar a few years ago at one of the spots I frequent and this is my first time listening to it. Let’s see if Fat Joseph builds on what he did his first go round.

Bronx TaleJOE opens with some dark mystic boom-bap shit (courtesy of Diamond D) that Fat Joe and the legendary KRS-One use to play hot potato with the mic. The Teacher’s presence must have lit a fire under Joe’s ass and pen, as his verses sounds ten times better than anything he spit on Represent. Speaking of represent, after nearly ten years in the game, KRS-One still sounds razor sharp on the mic being the “Ultimate, uttering ultimatums for the fun it”. This was a fire way to kick off the evening.

Success – Apparently this was one of the singles released from JOE. Domingo builds the somber backdrop around dark piano chords for this street hustler’s anthem that Joe dedicates to “everybody gettin’ money.” Joe continues to display his much improved rhyming as he rides this mid-tempo groove with confidence, delivering solid bars in the process. The instrumental is fire, and somehow the wordy superficial hook ends up being catchy and works well over the dope head-nod inducing backdrop.

Envy – Joe starts off the song reminiscing about his dysfunctional upbringing and surviving the notoriously tough streets of The Bronx: “Life’s trife and then you die, nobody dies of old age, but in the hands of another guy, that’s why, I keeps an alibi, Giuliani wants to see a brother fry!”. Then on the final verse he celebrates his rise to success, telling his “Momma look at me now, got a house in Long Ile (Island), for my spouse and my child”, while he jingles “Jewels in the face of past enemies” and hi-lariously tells them to “eat your heart out, son, you never was a friend of me”. L.E.S. (staying true to what I said about his production-style on my 4, 5, 6 write up) loops up Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” for the backdrop, and like most of his early instrumentals built around eighties R&B hits, it slaps, even if it’s an obvious sample choice and borderline lazy. The uncredited female vocalist on the hook and adlibs sprinkles a little extra flavor on the track as well.

Gangbanging Interlude – Joe plays a snippet from the 1979 cult classic film about New York gangs, The Warriors. Can you dig it? Can you dig it? Caaan yoooou dig iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit?!!!!!!!!

Fat Joe’s In Town – Joe uses this one to boast about his street pedigree and brag about how nice he is on the mic. And even though it was a bit comical to hear him try to force “Russell Simmons” to rhyme with “millions” (hey, on paper it looks like it might work), Joe still does a decent job mastering the ceremony. L.E.S. temporarily, steps away from his obvious eighties R&B sampling and digs a little deeper into the crates for a more obscure loop that conjures up the unsettling vibes of “Flow Joe”, which is also the energy Joe’s rhymes give off, just more refined. This was dope, and the Raphael Saadiq vocal snippet on the hook was a nice added touch.

Part Deux – On this one Joe sounds determined to show and prove to all naysayers and doubters that he’s a lyrical emcee. He handles Domingo’s hard backdrop fairly well, but I’m still not willing to put him anywhere near my top tier list.

King NY – A short interlude that uses a snippet from The 1990 Mafia-inspired movie, King Of New York, hence the song title

The Shit Is Real (DJ Premier Remix) – The O.G. version of this song was on Joe’s debut album Represent and this remix was used for the video version of the single. Premo laces Joe’s grimy street rhymes with a beautifully melodic backdrop built around an ill xylophone loop. This is one of my favorite Premo joints, and it still sounds as amazing as it did twenty-five years ago.

Fat Joe’s Way – This minute long interlude finds Joe rambling on in Spanish, while his crew listens, laughs and occasionally chimes in over relaxing middle-easternish chords.

Respect Mine – Raekwon kicks the song off rambling on about nothing and re-emerges on the hook to recite a snippet from his classic verse from “C.R.E.A.M.”. Joe turns in a decent performance and Joe Fatal’s instrumental is respectable (no pun intended), but something is missing from this one, and it ultimately falls flat.

Watch Out – Fat Joe plays facilitator on this one, as he handles the introductions and hook, while three of his Full Eclipse Camp members: Armageddon, Keith Nut and the late great, Big Pun get a chance to showcase their talent, or lack of. First things first, I’m so glad Joe decided to dump the Full Eclipse Camp name and use Terror Squad instead. Pun makes his debut on this one and gives us a serviceable verse, but far from as potent as his flow and bars would soon become. Armageddon and the pedophile, Keith Nut (who’s line about kidnapping kids, molesting them and sending them back home in bandages is repulsive and takes the whole “shock value rhymes” trend too far) sound terrible and should have been dumped from the squad along with the old crew name. Diamond D turns in a horrible instrumental, which completes one of the worst posse cuts in the history of hip-hop.

Say Word – Domingo turns a slick Bootsy Collins’ loop into a smooth groove that, an always intense, Fat Joe uses to spew more hardcore street rhymes over. The hook was trash, but overall this was a decent record.

Success (DJ Premier Remix) – I love me some Premo, but this dull remix ain’t touchin’ the beauty that the O.G version blessed us with.

Dedication – Joe borrows a loop from Tyrone Davis’ “In The Mood” (that both MC Eiht (“All For The Money”) and the Beatnuts (“Lick The Pussy”) used prior) to help create the smooth backdrop that he uses to rap his shout outs over. This was cool.

Bronx Keeps Creating It – Fat Joseph wraps up JOE talkin’ more of his shit over a dope mid-tempo Joe Fatal backdrop built around an ill David Axelrod loop (that both Lil Wayne and Royce Da 5’9 would later rap over). Fatal’s instrumental has a regal feel to it that makes a confident Fat Joe sound triumphant rapping over it.

It sounds like Fat Joe used the time in between Represent and Jealous One’s Envy to study some of the great New York lyricists that emerged in New York during that time frame (i.e. Nas, AZ, Wu-Tang Clan and Prodigy), as his flow sounds more polished and controlled, and lyrically, he sounds like a new man. For the most part, the production by committee method works on JOE, with the handful of beatsmiths, collectively providing a quality batch of mid-nineties east coast-flavored backdrops that Fat Joe uses to spit street shit on and most of it entertains or at minimum, will hold your attention. Thank God for second chances.


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Onyx – All We Got Iz Us (October 10, 1995)

In 1993 Onyx made a lasting first impression with their high-energy animated hardcore style that would arguably go on to be copy catted just as much as Das EFX’s stuttering style the year prior. The hyper-energetic four man crew out of Queens, led by the witty raspy-voiced Sticky Fingaz, crafted a quality debut album in Bacdafucup (you can read my thoughts on that album here) that would go on to achieve commercial success and a platinum plaque, thanks largely to their crossover platinum selling single “Slam” that you can still hear on somebody’s throwback mix on any given weekday around the globe. In ’95 the grimy gang would return with their sophomore effort, All We Got Iz Us.

The four man crew would become a three man team, as the late Big DS (who had a limited role on the debut album due to his legal issues) would leave the group after Bacdafucup. Also missing from AWGIU are Chyskillz and Jam Master J (rip to both of them), who were responsible for most of the production on the first album (Jam Master Jay does get an executive producer credit, but so did Nas’ 6 year old daughter for Stillmatic. My point? Executive Producer credits don’t mean shit.). Instead, Fredro Starr (with a few co-production credits going to his Onyx bredrin and 8-Off Assassin aka Agallah) is credited with producing the bulk of AWGIU, even though there are several rumors that 8-Off Assassin was really responsible for most of the production work on the album. AWGIU would not be nearly as commercially successful as its predecessor and received average reviews upon its release.

How would Onyx fair with their new formula on All We Got Iz Us? Let’s get into it now.

Side note: Fredro shouts out A Tribe Called Quest in the liner notes, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post. Okay, now we can get into it.

Life Or Death (Skit)AWGIU opens with a dark distorted bass line and Sticky Fingaz screaming over it trying to punk convince some random dude to commit suicide, and based on the gun shot that rings out, it sounds like he’s successful. This sets the dark mood that would remain for the rest of the evening.

Last Dayz – This was the second single from AWGIU and the instrumental will always be remember as the backing music for the epic second round battle between Lotto and B. Rabbit in 8 Mile. Fredro hooks up a chilling Earl Klugh bass line (that reeks of emanate danger) mixed with an eerie horn loop and a soulfully haunting Aretha Franklin vocal sample, all placed over scarce drums that culminate into one of the most cold and callous instrumentals I’ve ever heard, and I absolutely love it. Onyx matches the backdrop’s energy every step of the way, with Sticky Fingaz stealing the show (which quickly becomes the norm throughout AWGIU) with a brilliant heartfelt verse full of hopelessness: “Thinkin’ about takin’ my own life, I might as well, except they might not sell weed in hell, and that’s where I’m going, cause the devil’s inside of me, he make me rob from my own nationality, that’s kind of ignorant, but yo, I gotta pay the rent, so, yeah, I’ll stick a nigga, most definite”. This is not Onyx’s biggest hit (that will always go to “Slam”), but this evil masterpiece is definitely the best song in their catalog and the instrumental is a worthy candidate for top ten of all time.

All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets) – Onyx continues to build on the dark mood with this one. Fredro’s instrumental might now sound as cold as the previous track, but its sinister vibes are in the same vein, as the trio share hood commentary and pledge to stay together as they move through these evil street.

Purse Snatchaz – As the song title suggest, our hosts use this one to discuss all the criminal activity that goes on in the inner city that they don’t only endorse, but also claim to participate in as well. The sorrowful backdrop, drenched in misery, coupled with Greg Valentine’s (one-half of the group All City) wearily desperate notes on the hook, make Onyx’s cold rhymes believable and makes for another brilliantly bleak song.

Shout – Naturally, our hosts would turn up the energy and their volume levels for a song called “Shout”. Bass guitarist (and decorated music producer/mixer), Rich Keller provides a monster bass line (that’s guaranteed to make you screw your face while you nod your head) to go with Fredro’s slick up tempo instrumental, as the three man crew spaz out all over the track, with Sticky walking away with yet another one. This banger lightens the dim mood a little bit and also completes what may be the most intense four song combo to start any hip-hop album.

I Murder U (Skit) – Short interlude that loops Fredro repeating the song title over a simple drum beat.

Betta Off Dead – The fellas bring back the dark instrumental from the intro and get into their tough guy slash psychotic bag, and some of their bars are pretty funny (specifically, Sticky Fingaz line: “Get the fuck out the way or get your ass cut, cause if you go to jail they’ll probably make a pussy out ya butt”). All of Onyx’s insanity is brought to a head with the morbid hook that finds Sticky growling “Get a life”, to which they all reply in unison: “Fuck that, we’re better off dead!” There very well might be something wrong with me, but I love this dark morbid shit.

Live Niguz – This was first released on The Show Soundtrack under the censored title, “Live!!!” and was the soundtrack’s lead single. The instrumental is built around a dope Isaac Hayes loop that Onyx uses to celebrate all the “live niguz” out there. It makes for a decent bop, and it’s probably the only song on OWGIU that lets a few rays of sunlight in.

Punkmotherfukaz – Onyx takes exactly one minute to yell at the top of their lungs rhyme about how much they despise “punkmotherfunkaz”. The soft melodic loop sounds like it’s at war with the rugged drums and rumbling bass line, but it all sounds great underneath the threesome’s amped up rhymes.

Most Def – Compared to the rest of the album, Onyx sounds semi-sedated on this one, as they pledge their allegiance to the hood and the street life over a somber backdrop that feels as serene as a cloudy day. My only qualm with this one is the placement of Sticky’s stellar dark verse that I think should have closed out the song instead of opening it. But even with that small misstep, this is still most definitely, one of my favorites on the album.

Act Up (Skit) – A quick interlude that finds the fellas amping the energy back up after the mellow gem that was the previous track.

Getto Mentalitee – Onyx invites All City (which is comprised of J Mega and Greg Valentine, who we earlier heard sing on “Purse Snatchaz” and sounds like a less talented version of Redman on this one) and Panama P.I. to join them on this rowdy cipher joint that all parties involved use to issue death threats and talk about how nice they are on the mic over a borderline boring beat. As expected, Sticky son’s his fellow crew members on the mic, as he discusses his lineage and how the blood of his enslaved ancestors also runs through his veins and has him ready to spark a race war. Other than Sticky’s contribution, I didn’t care for this one.

2 Wrongs – Onyx sticks with the energy Sticky gave us on the previous song, as the trio are ready to seek vengeance on the white man for the wrongdoings he’s dished out to black folks over the past 400 years. Sticky hooks up, what sounds like, a grimy interpolation of a chord from Marvin and Tammi’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” with a dusty guitar riff and steady drums. It was kind of nice to hear Onyx on some conscious shit.

Maintain (Skit) – Fredro lays a super laidback and smooth instrumental that he, Sticky and Sonee use to encourage all the pussy muthafuckas, the starving niggaz, the “nothing, nobody going no where’s” and all the brothers locked down to maintain.

Walk In New York – As soon as Fredro’s grimy instrumental drops you can just visualize the rats and rodents coming out the crevices and cracks of hood walls across NYC. Onyx matches the instrumental’s soiled piss stained energy with muddy bars to represent for the New York City streets. Filth never sounded so good.

Bacdafucup was a dark project in its own right, but it gave us a few cracks of light or at least some lighthearted material here and there to help break things up. That is not the case with All We Got Iz Us. From beginning to end, Onyx mashes the listener in the face with intense demented, morbid and militant content over fantastic production that’s so dark it makes Don Cheadle look light skin. Sticky, who proved he was nice with the mic on Onyx’s debut, is in a complete zone on AWGIU, with an improved Fredro being a decent Robin to his Batman; and Sonee…is still Sonee. Bacdafucup was definitely a bigger commercial success with bigger singles, but pound for pound, AWGIU is a better album that doesn’t get the credit it rightfully deserves.







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WC And The Maad Circle – Curb Servin’ (October 3, 1995)

After a short stent with DJ Aladdin as the duo Low Profile (you can read my thoughts on their sole group album here), WC left his partner in rhyme and teamed up with his little brother, Crazy Toones (rip), Coolio and Big Gee, forming the new group: WC and the Maad Circle. The group was able to secure a deal with Priority where they would release their debut album, Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed in 1991. While the album wasn’t a commercial success, it did receive love and respect from the streets, and I personally enjoyed the album as well (I had a copy of the cassette back in the day, but it got ate by my boom box several years and moons ago. Since then, it’s long been on my collection want list, but I’m not willing to shell out fifty bucks for a used CD copy. I’m sure I’ll come across a copy for a reasonable price one day, but until then…I’ll wait). After a four year hiatus, WC and the gang would return, without Coolio (who had gone solo and become a pop/rap star by that time) and on a new label (Payday/London), to release their sophomore effort, Curb Servin’.

Gone are Chilly Chill and Sir Jinx who helped mold the sound of AADTC. Curb Servin’ would rely mostly on the hands and ears of Crazy Toones to sonically shape the album, with a few assists from a couple of outside parties (including the legendary Ice Cube). Dub C would hold down microphone duties, while we’re still trying to figure out what Big Gee’s role is in the group. Curb Servin’ produced a couple of singles that made a little whisper and the album fared better than its predecessor on the charts, climbing to 85 on the Billboard’s Top 200 and 15 on the Top Hip-Hop/R&B Album Charts. Curb Servin’ would be the last album released under the Maad Circle name, as WC would once again leave a group to form a new one (he’s like the Lebron James of hip-hop), this time joining forces with Ice Cube and Mack 10 to form Westside Connection, who would release their debut group album the following year, and he would also begin his solo career.

I liked Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed, so when I bumped into a used CD copy of Curb Servin’ for less than ten bucks a few weeks ago, I had to cop. Curb Servin’ is yet another album that I’ve never heard in its entirety, until now, which is making me reconsider my earlier notion that I was super aware of all things hip-hop in the mid-nineties.

Intro – After a cinematic horn sample and a snippet from a police call that has a cop threatening to unleash the dogs on some poor soul, WC comes in and spits one sloppy and choppy verse over Crazy Toones’ uncreative instrumental built around a loop from the overly used and abused “Atomic Dog”. There are a few samples that should be retired and hung in the hip-hop rafters never to be used again, and “Atomic Dog” is one of them. Thankfully, this intro only lasts a minute and a half.

West Up! – This was the lead single from Curb Servin’. Crazy Toones loops up the same George Duke sample that Spice 1 used for “In My Neighborhood”, as Ice Cube and Mac 1o (who will forever be Wack 10 in my book after Common dissed him on “The Bitch In Yoo”) join Dub-C and give us the second installment of what would official become Westside Connection the following year (the first installment came on Mac 10’s self-titled debut album). While Dub C and Mac 10 spit lines to highlight the sights and sounds of L.A., Cube comes with a bunch of smoke for the East Coast, pretty much firing shots at them on every bar. This was dope. One of these days I’ll have to check out Westside Connection’s catalog.

Granny Nuttin’ Up – Granny leaves a hi-larious voicemail, misusing all the young boy slang in the process. This was a pretty funny interlude.

The One – This was the second single from Curb Servin’. Toones laces his big bro with some smooth soulful shit that Dub C uses to talk his shit on and occasionally goes into this corny Snagglepuss bit in the middle of a rhyme. I really like this one, and the greatness of Dub C summing the horn break after his second and third verses is only secondary to MC Eiht commanding the “bitches” to sing the hook on “Def Wish III”.

A Crazy Break Pt. 2 – Crazy Toones cuts shit up on the ones and two’s for this interlude, before going into the next song…

Put On Tha Set – WC smoked a PCP laced blunt (that he claims Coolio gave him) that has him so high he’s seeing himself on TV kickin’ it with the casts of classic shows like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Good Times, and the pictures he paints are funny as hell (the mixture of Thelma’s ass and Volona’s titties on one woman sounded very appealing, until he mentioned she has Florida’s face). The production duo of Madness 4 Real and Dr. Jam get their first production credit of the evening, as they provide a smooth mid-tempo groove for WC’s zany, creative and entertaining tale.

In A Twist – Dub-C reunites with his former Maad Circle bredrin turned pop-star, Coolio on this one, as the duo use this duet to share the details of their heist plot. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it was nice to hear WC and Coolio back together again.

Homesick – Our host expresses his love for the hood and declares that no matter where life takes him, he can’t and won’t stay away from the streets too long. Ice Cube hooks up a slow moving funk groove, dripping with pimp juice that’ll make you want to strut down the block with a toothpick in your mouth, looking for a prostitute to collect money from.

Feel Me – Sorry. Not on this one, Dub-C.

Curb Servin’ – The title track finds Dub C in battle mode, talkin’ his shit over a Crazy Toones/Ice Cube concoction, driven by samples from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love”. Remember what I said about “Atomic Dog” at the beginning of this post? The same applies for “Genius Of Love”. I didn’t like this one. WC sounds decent, but the backing music is very lackluster.

Stuckie Mack – Granny from the first interlude returns to leave another nonsensical vm. It was funny the first time around, but not enough to warrant a sequel.

Wet Dream – Over one long verse our host recalls the details of a dream he had while sleeping on the couch. In this dream, the black community comes together as one with one common goal in mind: to seek revenge on “every motherfucker who dissed the black” community. This includes Colin Powell, former California governor, Pete Wilson and Bill Clinton (whom Dub C is wise enough not to call out by name, but drops enough clues to make sure you know who he’s talking about) who all get sodomized (or as WC so eloquently puts it: “robbin’ motherfuckers of their manhood”) and hung high in Dub C’s brutal dream. Not quite as transformative and inspiring as MLK’s dream, but whatever. Gunfire from outside awakens our sleeping host, who’s quickly brought back to reality and finds himself sitting in a puddle of his own nut, which is both comical and disgusting. Toones provides a serious sounding smooth groove that helps bring the details of Dub’s dream to life.

Taking Ova – Madness 4 Real and Dr. Jam get their final production credit of the evening, sprinkling the perfect measurement of sinister synth chords over hard drums that Dub C rides like Billy The Kid on horseback (I love his line dedicated to the critics: “who said I wouldn’t last, I need to jump out the speakers and strangle yo’ ass”). Dub C’s baritone vocal sounds great over the minimal but potent backdrop.

Kill A Habit – Toones hooks up a semi-zany jazz flavored instrumental for Dub C, who’s on a mission to help his crack addicted brother get over his habit, and after several failed Rehabilitation Center stays (which he says are like vacations for his brother), Dub C’s ready to beat the shit habit out of his smoked-out sibling. After he and Toones beat the shit out of their brother and see no change in his behavior, it dawns on Dub that “the only one to kill a habit, is the one doing the practice”. Or he could take matters into his own hands and kill two birds with one stone (or one stoned bird) by putting a bullet in his head. This song reminds me a lot of Chris Rock’s stand-up comedy: serious shit discussed in a comical manner, making you laugh to keep from crying. Well done, WC.

Reality Check – A couple of Maad Circle’s locked up homeboys leave voicemails for Dub C and Crazy Toones, giving their current lock down location and showing love to the group on this short interlude. The concept and the instrumental sound very similar to Gang Starr’s “Aiiight Chill…” from Hard To Earn, which came out a year prior to Curb Servin’. Hmmm…

The Creator – A humble WC devotes the final song of the evening to God aka The Creator, showering him with reverence and praise for allowing him to survive the mean streets of Los Angeles and blessing him with the opportunity “to catch wreck over beats”, while a lot of his homeboys fell by the waste side. Dub C’s vocal tone and tendency to break into playful singing in the middle of a rhyme, reminds me a little of Big Daddy Kane. Rhythm D gets the production credit, hooking up a synthy interpolation of Shalamar’s “This Is For The Lover In You”, which works perfectly with Dub C’s heartfelt rhymes. The uncredited female vocalist on the hook and adlibs didn’t quite know her limitations and does a bit too much, but her unimpressive performance can’t derail this quality track. Great way to close out the album and the Maad Circle catalog.

Curb Servin’ is actually a pretty decent listen. After a forgettable intro, it quickly catches fire (“West Up!”, “The One” and “Put On Tha Set”), before going into a mediocre middle (“In A Twist”, “Homesick”, “Feel Me” and “Curb Servin'”), then finishes strong down the home stretch (“Wet Dream”, “Taking Ova”, “Kill A Habit” and “The Creator”). WC’s emcee presence and ability has definitely improved since his Low Profile days, and he does a quality job mastering the ceremony throughout Curb Servin’, balancing street shit with rapper shit talk and entertaining stories, even when the production wavers. I wouldn’t call Curb Servin’ a classic, but it’s definitely a worthy album from a short-lived but respected west coast crew.


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Souls Of Mischief – No Man’s Land (October 10, 1995)

October 10, 1995 was a busy release day in hip-hop! This is the fourth and final post for that date…for now. Enjoy the read and Happy Holidays!!!

Souls of Mischief made quite the first impression with their debut album, 93 ‘Til Infinity, which really gained steam thanks in large part to the classic title song that would go on to be the biggest hit in the group’s catalog. But don’t get it twisted, most of the album cuts were also potent pieces, and the four man crew from Oakland crafted a damn near flawless debut album. Two years later Souls of Mischief would return with their sophomore effort, No Man’s Land.

No Man’s Land would be the Souls’ last album released on Jive, as they would go the independent route after this one. I’m not sure what led up to the separation between SOM and Jive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with the poor reception of No Man’s Land. Not only did the album commercially perform poorly, but it also received dismal to mediocre reviews from the critics.

In 1995 I ate, drank, and slept hip-hop and was very attentive and aware of who was releasing new music, even if I didn’t like the artist or buy the music. So, I have no idea how I completely missed No Man’s Land. I don’t remember hearing a single from the album on the radio or a seeing a video for one of the album’s singles on Yo! MTV Raps or Rap City. Matter of fact, I didn’t even know this album existed until well after 2ooo. I bought the album used for a couple of bucks a few years back and this write-up marks my first time listing to No Man’s Land.

On a completely random side note: Souls of Mischief shouts out A Tribe Called Quest in the album’s liner notes, fulfilling my very stagnant Tribe Degrees of Separation bit.

So You Wanna Be A…No Man’s Land begins with a bangin’ drum beat, a thick bass line and jazzy vibes, all which correlate to a dope backdrop, courtesy of Opio. The instrumental had me all excited and ready to hear the foursome spew their eloquent abstracted battle raps, but instead all I get is a short interlude that finds the Souls chanting a refrain aimed at inspiring emcees. Oh well.

No Man’s Land – The Souls do use the title track to get into the eloquent abstractions I was looking to hear on the intro. Toure hooks up a chill funk guitar loop and a smooth horn sample over mid-tempo drums that SOM use to boast, brag and battle in their signature Hiero fashion. Phesto and A-Plus seem to let their hair down, as both their flows come with the traditional Oakland twang that was not heard on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Our hosts also invite their Hiero homeboy, Pep Love to officiate the song, adding useless shit talk in between verses, which probably sounds better than a meaningless wordy hook would have fared.

Rock It Like That – Apparently, this was the lead single from No Man’s Land and I’m still baffled on how I never heard this song on the radio or saw a video for it back in the day, but whatever. Opio’s instrumental is middling, the hook is horrendous and SOM’s rhymes sounds mediocre at best, so I guess I really didn’t miss anything.

Secret Service – A-Plus and Tajai play agents Plus and Massey, respectively, and share the details of a few of their government sanctioned assassination missions as secret agents over a ruggedly dark A-Plus produced backdrop. I’m not crazy about this one, but kudos to A-Plus and Tajai for the unique song concept.

FreshDopeDope – Jay Biz gets his first production credit of the evening and turns in a smooth mystical bop for SOM to continue to serve up their Oakland brand of battle bars. This one lives up to all three of the adjectives in the song title.

Where The Fuck You At? – What would a hip-hop album be without a little misogyny? SOM’s hormones are raging on this one, as Opio, Tajai and Phesto spew lusty lines about the objects of their erections. A-Plus deviates from the subject a bit and choses to share a short tale about a street dude who gets sent to jail and is now the object of his fellow inmates’ erections: it’s kind of out of place, but there’s always one jackass that goes against the grain just to stand out. Casual provides a hypnotic bluesy backdrop that works well behind SOM’s lewd lyrics.

’94 Via Satellite – Hieroglyphics founder, Del The Funky Homosapien drops in for this one and not only spits a verse alongside his SOM bredrin, but also provides the backdrop. The first few times I listened to this song I thought Del’s beat was decent, but the more I listen to it the more his off-kilter drums annoy me and sound cheesy, and all the other elements in the instrumental sound stale. The Souls stick to the battle-themed rhymes that have dominated the first half of No Man’s Land, but they barely resonate, largely due to the underwhelming backdrop.

Do You Want It? – A-Plus and Tajai are credited for this smooth jazz-tinged mid-tempo instrumental that our hosts use to brag and boast of their greatness in their signature Souls of Mischief style. This is definitely one of my favorites on the album.

Come Anew – Quick interlude that finds A-Plus and Phesto chatting about the past, present, future, getting paid and the emcees who bit their style over a chill loop and subdued drums.

Bumpshit – This one wasn’t terrible, but its replay value is very low.

Ya Don’t Stop – A-Plus builds the instrumental around a luscious loop (the same one Black Sheep used for Non-Fiction’s “Who’s Next?”) for himself and his SOM bredrin to rock over, and the foursome sound fresh during the process. By the way, Tajai and Opio are definitely the strongest emcees in the group. That was kind of a random thought, but whatever.

Yeah It Was You – While SOM takes a bathroom break, their homeboy, Pep Love grabs the mic and shares one quick verse over scarce drums and a somber loop. This was decent, but not enough to make me hunt down Pep’s whole catalog or anything.

Hotel, Motel – An enticingly melodic instrumental plays in the background while Tajai engages with a groupie in his hotel room (or motel room, choose your own adventure), who has nothing but questions about his fellow group members, and then he hi-lariously asks to see her ID, just to make sure she can legally accept the stabbing he’s trying to dish out. His pursuits of the booty are interrupted by a bunch of male groupies (whom Tajai affectionately refers to as “jerky ass niggas”) knocking at the door in hopes of spitting raps for Taj. Tajai quickly gets rid of the cock blockers and picks up where he left off at before he was rudely interrupted. Then the interlude ends and goes right into the next song that has absolutely nothing to do with this interlude.

Fa Sho Fo Real – Toure, along with Michael Witwer’s live guitar and bass play, create a soothing jazzy groove for our hosts to continue their verbal assault on other emcees. This is a solid record, and shout out to the female vocalist, Sora for providing the soft and tranquil notes on the hook. The song ends with Opio all fired up after listening to an unnamed rapper’s record whom he believes took a shot at the Souls on said song. He repeatedly asks his skeptical crew to rewind it so he can help them catch the alleged dis. Then the next song begins…

Dirty D’s Theme (Hoe Or Die) – I’m assuming the song title is either a shout out to the song’s producer (Extra Prolific’s frontman, Snupe, whose government name is Duane) or an encrypted response to whomever Opio was talking about at the end of the previous song, but who is this unnamed offender? My first thought was Domino, who produced about a third of 93 ‘Til Infinity and curiously had nothing to do with No Man’s Land, but he’s not a rapper and they actually shout him out in the album’s liner notes, so I can dead that theory. Then I looked at the “Hoe Or Die” portion of the song title and thought: “Could SOM be making a mockery of AZ’s debut album’s title, Doe Or Die, and aiming their verbal darts at him? I’ve never heard any rumblings of an AZ/Souls of Mischief beef, but you never know what might have been going on behind the scenes (by the way, if this speculative beef really did go down, I got my money on AZ. Hands down. I know he’s not known for his battle raps, but if push came to shove, I believe he could rip some unassuming emcees (*cough* Souls of Mischief) new assholes). More than likely the title is a shout out to Snupe and the battle bars SOM spits over his sleepy but pleasant and perfect for midnight marauding instrumental are more of the same random battle raps that have dominated most of No Man’s Land. Regardless, I still enjoyed this record.

Times Ain’t FairNo Man’s Land’s finale finds SOM spitting all types of randomness and then ridiculously trying to tie their verses into the nonsensical hook. Oh well…At least the A-Plus/Tajai produced breezy backdrop was enjoyable.

No Man’s Land is a bit of an enigma: Souls of Mischief pretty much pick up where they left off at on their debut, using most of the album to brag, boast and battle, occasionally deviating from the syllabus to share a story or talk about chicks. I’ve never considered SOM to be top tier lyricists, but them boys can definitely rap, and their rhymes paired with their slick jazz-flavored production style helped make 93 ‘Til Infinity a damn near masterpiece. For some reason that formula doesn’t hit the same on No Man’s Land. Technically, the album sounds good, but SOM’s rhymes don’t sound as sharp and while most of the instrumentals have heart, they seem to lack soul. In a nutshell, No Man’s Land is missing the magic Souls of Mischief gave on their first go round. Would they recapture the magic on their third album? Stay tuned…


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Jamal – Last Chance, No Breaks (October 10, 1995)

After releasing their very disappointing album, The Untold Truth (you can read my review on that album right here), Illegal members, Jamal and Malik, amicably, decided to go their separate ways and pursue solo careers. Both parties would stay with Rowdy (the same label that brought us The Untold Truth) after the break up, with Malik releasing the single “Malik Goes On”: a song I’ve never heard and apparently didn’t make enough noise for Rowdy to feel the need to follow it up with a full-length album. Malik would eventually leave Rowdy and join his cousin Snoop (is it just me or does it seem like half the hip-hop world is related to Snoop in some form or fashion?) on Death Row, where he would join the long list of rappers to sign to the label, record an album that would eternally be shelved and forever dwell in hip-hop’s black whole. Jamal’s solo’s career would fair somewhat better, as he would become a member of Erick Sermon’s Def Squad and release his solo debut album, Last Chance, No Breaks on Rowdy in the fall of ’95.

Naturally, Jamal would call on his Def Squad bredrin (Erick Sermon, Redman and Def Squad affiliate, Rockwilder) to contribute instrumentals for LCNB, but he would also get some production help from Easy Mo Bee, Mike Dean and a few lesser known beatsmiths  (curiously, his mentor, Dallas Austin gets an executive producer credit, but doesn’t directly produce any songs on the album). LCNB would produce a couple of charting singles, but the album didn’t sell well and it received average to dismal reviews from critics.

Although Jamal’s performance on The Untold Truth was very forgettable, he actually sounded decent during his cameo on Junior M.A.F.I.A’s “Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A.” from their debut album. So when I found LCNB for a few bucks at one of my spots a few years back, I figured I’d check it out and see if Mally G would continue his upward trend. That and the fact I liked one of the singles from the album. I’ve never listened to LCNB before today and I’m only familiar with two of the eleven tracks, but hopefully this fairs better than The Untold Truth did.

Live Illegal – Jamal kicks off the evening with a laid back Easy Mo Bee backdrop that he uses to boast and talk his tough guy shit, while low-key shouting out his old group on the hook (that uses a vocal snippet from Havoc of Mobb Deep), or at least the group’s name. Mally G’s rhyming has definitely improved since his Illegal days, but he’s still light years away from being anywhere near a top-tier emcee. The instrumental, while pleasant, is a little low on energy for an album opening track, but overall, this wasn’t bad.

Keep It Live – Jamal uses this one to share his bio, as he walks us through his days as a snot-nosed trouble magnet in Philly to meeting Left Eye of TLC and moving to Atlanta to pursue his dreams as an emcee. Someone going by PME, breaks Jamal off with a smooth soulful instrumental that sounds way more impressive than our host’s rhymes and terrible hook.

Situation – Mally G gets into his storytelling bag on this one, as he details a night out on the town with his crew that quickly ends with one person dead and another wounded. Surprisingly, Jamal’s story kept me intrigued throughout, as his rhymes paint a vivid visual of the violent events of that evening. Erick Sermon’s cloudy-soulful instrumental (complete with a sick rumbling bass line) sounds great coupled with Jamal’s thug tale.

Insane Creation – Our host invites his fellow Def Squad bredrin, Redman to join him on this duet, as the duo play hot potato with the mic. Both emcees turn in serviceable performances, but Easy Mo Bee’s instrumental makes watching paint dry sound exciting.

Fades Em All – Apparently, this was the first single from LCNB, but I’ve never heard it before now. Redman and Rockwilder construct a relaxing backdrop dripping with warm vibes that Jamal uses to talk big shit and tries his best to impress with boastful bars. His performance is middling at best, and even though I like the instrumental, it doesn’t match Jamal’s energy. FYI: The Pete Rock remix for this song is fire!

The Game – The song begins with a short skit that has two men making, what appears to be, an illegal transaction, then you hear gunshots ring out. Then Redman’s melodically creamy laid back instrumental comes in and Jamal spits a tale about a dude named Spin that’s full of murder, bitches, money and drugs. Much like “Fades Em All”, the instrumental is too relaxed for Jamal’s unoriginal and uninteresting hood narrative.

Da Come Up – Apparently this is the sequel to “The Game”, as the Spin character returns for another unimpressive thug tale from Jamal. Mike Dean’s backdrop was decent, though.

Don’t Trust No – Jamal doesn’t cover any new territory on this one, as he uses his verses to spew immature misogyny. But Mike Dean’s southern synthy groove is dope. I would love to hear Scarface spit something over it.

Keep It Real – This was LCNB‘s second single and one of the two songs I was familiar with going into this write-up. The Green-eyed Bandit loops a piano chord from Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon In The Sky” and turns it into a beautiful backdrop for Jamal to…keep it real. Jamal spits possibly the most ridiculous bar of all time on his second verse: “I stick my dick in the ground, then I turn the whole world around…and blow the sun up!” Wtf? Corny lyrics and generic song title aside (there were no less than a million rap songs with the same title by 1995), I absolutely love Erick Sermon’s somber instrumental.

Genetic For Terror – Jamal invites Keith Murray and L.O.D. (made up of 50 Grand and Kel-Vicious) to join him on this cipher session, and all four emcees turn in at least, decent performances with Mr. Murray inflicting the most damage (I love his line about “lockin’ up with rappers, Roman-Greco wrestling style”). Redman sets the mood, building the backdrop around a spooky bass line from The Jackson 5’s “Boogie Man” that ends up being the perfect canvas for the foursome to rhyme over. I like this one.

Unfuckwittable – This was the other song I was familiar with before this write-up, only because it was on the B-side of the “Keep It Real” single that I boosted from Musicland (or Sam Goody) back in the day to rap over the instrumental. Someone going by the alias of Erotic D (which sounds like a great porn name) hooks up a chilled-out deep funk groove for Jamal to introduce the world to Passion. Passion takes the first two verses and she completely murders the track and Jamal on his own shit. Jamal adds the third verse, but he would have fared better sitting this one out and letting his guest shine solo. I wonder what happened to Passion. I know she made a few more impressive cameos on some Erick Sermon records, but then she seemingly, disappeared (Wikipedia list this Passion as the same Oakland-based Passion who signed to MCA and released an album back in ’96, but I can’t and won’t believe they are the same person. If you have any info on this, feel free to hit me in the comments). Funk legend, George Clinton stops by to sprinkle some adlibs over the groove, but Passion is the true star of this one. And what a great song title.

On Last Chance, No Breaks, Jamal proves that his rhyming skills have definitely improved since his Illegal days, but he’s still only an average emcee on his best day. Overall, the album’s production is decent, but the subdued vibe (which I kind of enjoyed) that most of the instrumentals conjure up, contradict Mally G’s hyper-thug energy. But ultimately, Jamal’s lackluster content and underwhelming song ideas (and godawful hooks) aren’t strong enough to carry the weight for an entire album.


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KRS-One – KRS-One (October 10, 1995)

After 1992’s Sex And Violence, KRS-One decided it was time to call it quits for the legendary BDP crew and officially went dolo, releasing his first solo album, Return Of The Boom Bap in ’93. The album found KRS-One, for the first time in his career, relinquishing most of the production duties to outside help, calling on the likes of Premo and Showbiz to cultivate the album’s sound, and it would go on to be a critical darling, adored by fans as well. The Blastmaster would return in ’95 with his self-titled sophomore solo effort, KRS-One.

The album was originally going to be called Hip-Hop Vs Rap, as that is the title that appeared in the early magazine reviews of the album (i.e. The Source and Rap Pages). According to those reviews and the album’s liners notes, some of the songs that were going to appear on the album got cut at the last minute (in the liner notes KRS-One shouts out “Producers who worked on the album but whose work did not appear”, which includes work from his brother, Kenny Parker, Kid Capri and Pete Rock). Like ROTBB, Kris would use a production by committee strategy for KRS-One, which ended up peaking at number 19 on the US Billboard 200 and number 2 on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

In between songs, KRS-One features a slew of people stopping by to give the Teacher a shout out and show him love: From pioneers like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore, to former foes (MC Shan), to top tier emcees (Rakim and Method Man…You can add another tally mark to his ’95 cameo list), to radio deejays around the globe; even MC Hammer drops him a line. I won’t list all of the interludes and guests in this write-up (Kris does provide a complete list of guests in the album’s liner notes), but just know that KRS-One is loved and respected by all. And he’s still making music to this day.

Rappaz R. N. Dainja – Kris kicks off KRS-One on some true emcee shit: boasting about his greatness and dropping jewels over some hard Premo boom bap (with a dope O.C. vocal snippet on the hook): “Any emcee can battle for glory, but to drop a dope rhyme to wake up your people’s another story, act like you never saw me, cause when it comes to lyrics I’m in a different category”. This was a great way to kick off the show, and a reminder why the Blastmaster is one of the greatest to ever do it.

De Automatic – Big French provides our host with a monster track that sounds like he’s taking the listener on a nighttime flight through the hood, while KRS-One spits with the hunger of a new rapper trying to get his foot in the door: “When you was home witcha mother afraid of the dark, I was sleepin’ out in Prospect Park, eating one meal every 48 hours, writin’ dope rhyme styles that you now devour, don’t you realize that I’m all about survival, I got only friends cause I killed all my rivals”. Fat Joe comes in at the end to show love to KRS-One, BDP and the South Bronx, completing this underrated (or just forgotten) record in our host’s impressive catalog.

MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know – Premo gets his second production credit of the evening, and it’s another mid-tempo banger that Kris demolishes with ease (I literally laugh every time I hear him say “Let me show ya whose ass is the blackest”). This completes a stellar three song combo to start the album.

Ah-Yeah – KRS-One gets in his militant bag on this one, as he takes the crowns off devils, celebrates the death of Richard Nixon, denounces voting (I wonder what his stance is on that today) and goes through his impressive list of reincarnations. I agree with some of Kris’ theology, but his droopy instrumental makes his content hard to digest on this one.

R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. – KRS-One turns “reality” into a ridiculous acronym (Rhymes Equal Actual Life, In The Youth), argues that “reality ain’t always the truth” on the hook, then spends three verses explaining what he meant on the hook. Even if you don’t agree with all of Kris’ content (like myself), you have to respect the man for giving us something conscious to chew on. Norty Cotto’s subpar instrumental wasn’t easy to digest, though.

Free Mumia – Kris is joined by his apprentices, Channel Live on this one, as the trio call out C Dolores Tucker, Jesse Jackson, Rush Limbaugh, Tipper Gore, Colin Powell, Bob Dole and anybody else who opposes hip-hop. The song title and hook (which references the activist/journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia cop back in 1981 and is still serving a life sentence without parole) really have nothing to do with the song’s content, but it still sounds dope.

Hold – Kris gets into his storytelling bag on this one, as he spins a tale about the thin line between wants and needs and the peril that can come with chasing your wants haphazardly. It’s kind of like “Love’s Gonna Get’cha” Part 2. KRS-One’s instrumental used to sound super cheesy to me, but now it actually sounds solid behind his story. Fine wine.

Wannabemceez – If you’re listening to KRS-One on cassette, this kicks of side two of the album…and you’re older than dirt. Premo provides one last boom-bap masterpiece for Kris to flex is superior lyricism, as he continues to destroy inferior emcees and he sounds like he’s having a ball during the process. By the way, to tell a rapper to rewrite his whole album is crazy disrespectful and funny as hell. Mad Lion drops by at the end of the song to add some unnecessary (and almost unintelligible) babble, but he can’t derail the excellence that this song is.

Represent The Real Hip-Hop – This is the exact same song that appeared on Das EFX’s Hold It Down. The only difference is KRS-One decided to add “Hip-Hop” to the end of the song title. I still don’t like it.

The Truth – The Teacher poses some interesting questions about religion and leaves the listener with a lot of food for thought to chew on with this one. Unfortunately, his instrumental is trash. And why the hell did Rich Nice find it necessary to interrupt the session to spew that nonsense at the end of the song?

Build Ya Skillz – Diamond D hooks up a ruggedly dark backdrop with a trunk rattling bass line, while Busta Rhymes stops by to play Kris’ hypeman, sprinkling his magnetic energy over the track. KRS-One uses this one to lyrically pummel rappers and in between verses encourages them to sharpen their skills (“Rappers talk too much shit, but can’t back it up with lyrics, build your skills!!”). I completely forgot about this song, but it was a pleasant rediscovery.

Out For Fame – This is KRS-One’s ode to the most underappreciated element of hip-hop: graffiti. Our host constructs a gritty streetwise backdrop to share some of the art form’s history, shout out a few of New York’s legendary graffiti artists and gives a great explanation on why graffiti gets no respect: “There used to be a time when rap music was illegal, the cops would come and break up every party when they see you, but now that rap music’s making money for the corporate, it’s acceptable to flaunt it, now everybody’s on it, graffiti isn’t corporate so it gets no respect, hasn’t made a billion dollars for some corporation yet”. I definitely appreciate this song now more than I did back in ’95.

Squash All Beef – Diamond D gets his second and final production credit of the evening with this one, building the brilliant backdrop around a Crusaders loop that makes for a warm soulful canvas (I love the thick and delicious bass line). Kris uses it to denounce beef and promote unity in hip-hop and the black community: “All beef can be squashed if you want it, but instead of forgiveness, ego you flaunt it, everybody gets into two or three quarrels, leading to a squabble, someone will die tomorrow”. He (and Sadat X) cleverly quote Kool Moe Dee’s closing bar from “Self Destruction” at the end of the first two verses (“I never ran from the Klu Klux Klan, and I shouldn’t have to run from a black man”). This song was released just as the East Coast/West Coast feud begin to heat up. If only both sides would have taken heed to the message in this gem of a song.

Health, Wealth, Self – To close out KRS-One, Kris declares all he needs in this life are the three planes listed in the song title, and he generously offers up five lessons about emcee longevity in one long verse. His self-produced laid back semi-soulful instrumental works as the perfect companion piece for the Teacher’s sage like wisdom. This is one of my favorite joints on the album and a great way to close the show.

In the mist of all the gangsta posturing and material worshipping that started to consume hip-hop in the mid-nineties, albums like KRS-One are refreshing to hear. The Blastmaster puts on his teacher hat to drop jewels and lessons when he’s not thrashing lesser emcees and reminding them all that he’s one of the best to ever do it. A few of the instrumentals are questionable and like all KRS-One albums, some of Kris’ metaphysical and spiritual/religious philosophies can be a bit too much to digest, but overall KRS-One is a quality album from an emcee who’s worthy of a seat at the top ten table.



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AZ – Doe Or Die (October 10, 1995)


On Illmatic’s “Life’s A Bitch”, a young unknown high-pitched raspy-voiced emcee named AZ made arguably the greatest debut cameo appearance in hip-hop history, matching the soon to be god emcee, Nas, bar for bar. His swift flow and stellar vocabulary left hip-hop heads mesmerized and anticipating more from the Brooklyn native. It would only be a matter of time before the Record labels would come knocking on his door, and AZ would eventually sign to EMI, where he would release his debut album, Doe Or Die.

AZ would use a few of the same producers Nas used to craft the sound of Illmatic (Pete Rock and L.E.S.) and he would call on a few other beatmakers to contribute to Doe Or Die’s production. The album experienced some commercial success, peaking at number 15 on the Billboard Top 200 and number 1 on the Top US R&B/Hip-Hop charts, with the lead single, “Sugar Hill” earning AZ a gold plaque. Doe Or Die also received critical acclaim, receiving positive reviews from the critics and love from the streets.

Even with AZ receiving critical acclaim and experiencing his own level of success with Doe Or Die, he never seemed to be able to get out of the shadow of Nas’ wings. Over the years, AZ has released a slew of respectable album and built a cult-like following, but never experienced the commercial success or super stardom that some of his less talented peers would.

Intro – AZ returns Nas’ invite from Illmatic, as he joins him on this intro, but this is no “Genesis”, folks. Nas does a horrible job trying to sound like a Sicilian Mafia boss, as he and Sosa chop it up, before our host goes into a yawn-provoking spoken word piece over a bunch of noise that is the audio equivalent of the Chinese water torture technique.

Uncut Raw – AZ picks up where he left off at on “Life’s A Bitch”, delivering high energy well-articulated bars with his quality flow and delivery: “This is as, pure as opium, purified for street players to open ’em, Space like three L’s laced with coke in ’em, shots awoken ’em, fake uniform Jakes approach ’em, six trips to young clicks and killers coachin ’em”. The Loose produced instrumental (with a co-production credit going to AZ) works as the perfect accomplish to AZ’s street paintings, and it lives up to the song title.

Gimme Yours – Pete Rock gets his first production credit of the evening, lacing AZ with a breezy feel good backdrop that our host uses to discuss his never ending pursuit of the mighty dollar. And he also reuses one of the swaggiest words ever used in a hip-hop song: schweppervescence. Nas drops in again, this time to sing the hook and add a few adlibs to this gem of a song that still sounds fresh and amazing after all these years.

Ho Happy Jackie -Buckwild loops up a slick Kool & The Gang sample for AZ to eloquently call out and warn others about the snares of promiscuous Ho Happy Jackie: “So married or single, watch out for Jackie when you jingle, she might sting you and aint no telling what that sting’ll bring you, you could fall off point and get careless, lose all awareness, go hairless, why she wouldn’t care if, you go bankrupt, her lifestyle’s corrupt, so knowledge before you wisdom or understanding is fucked”. This is definitely one of the highlights on Doe Or Die, and one of the greatest “Jezebel” songs in the history of hip-hop.

Rather Unique – Pete Rock gets his second and final production credit of the evening. This time he provides our host with a melodic mid-tempo banger (accompanied by a well-placed Big Daddy Kane vocal snippet on the hook) that AZ completely annihilates, while showing off his vast vocabulary and potent flow. AZ actually got The Source’s once highly sought after Hip-Hop Quotable Column for the second verse in this song. These are the type of bars that leave me wondering why AZ is so underappreciated. This is an unheralded classic.

I Feel For You – Not including the horrendous intro, this is the first real misstep on Doe Or Die. AZ serves up quality bars, but the heavy drums sound like dirty vinyl skipping and the repetitive two chord melody from the female voice (who the liner notes credit to a Erica Scott) quickly becomes annoying and begins to wear on the ears.

Sugar Hill – L.E.S. sticks to his script of flagrantly ripping eighties R&B hits, this time targeting Juicy’s “Sugar Free”. AZ uses it to dream about becoming successful and able to live like his ancestors before him in the historic wealthy African-American neighborhood that the song title references (do your Googles!). Miss Jones (whom we last heard acting like she wanted to put Prince Markie D’s dick in her mouth throughout Love Daddy) pops up to sing a decent but uninspired hook on a song that I’ve never liked, but I completely understand why AZ used it as his debut single.

Mo Money Mo Murder (Homicide) – Nas drops by for a third time (well, fourth if you count the adlibs he added to the end of “Uncut Raw”), but this time he actually spits bars, taking on his Escobar persona to spar with Sosa, as the two exchange Mafioso rhymes over DR Period’s sophisticated backdrop. This duet is nowhere near as potent as the duo’s performance on “Life’s A Bitch”, but its still quality. After the song ends, AZ slips in a short hidden interlude, as he spits a quick gloomy verse over a desolate backdrop that I actually enjoyed…in a depressed kind of way.

Doe Or Die – New Orleans Joe gets an odd production credit on Doe Or Die, as he slides our host one of his signature slow-cooked southern-synth instrumental that sticks out like a sore thump amongst the rest of the East Coast-flavored production we’ve heard to this point. It’s not a terrible song, just not my cup of tea.

We Can’t Win – What a bleak song title. Thankfully, AZ and his guests’ (Amar and another uncredited male voice whose tone sounds very similar to AZ’s, and according to Genius.Com his name is Barsham) content doesn’t sound as hopeless. The trio actually spit the most conscious rhymes on Doe Or Die with this one; and the voice at the beginning and end of the song sounds like the Oswald Bates character from In Living Color. This makes for decent filler material.

Your World Don’t Stop – AZ dedicates this one to all the brothers locked up, as he uses the serious sounding instrumental (which the liner notes say was originally produced by Spunk Biggs, then remixed by Ski aka Ski Beatz) to come from the perspective of a convict whose trying to stay sane and optimistic as he awaits the end of his bid and a return to freedom. Our host proves to be a sufficient storyteller on this solid record.

Sugar Hill (Remix) – Even though it doesn’t sound blatantly pop like the original mix, I still don’t like it. Thirty seconds or so after this remix ends, dirge like piano chords come in. I’m assuming the somber chords symbolize the “Die” option in the album’s title. Regardless, this concludes Doe Or Die.

Even with redundant content and a few underwhelming beat selections, AZ is able to conjure up a quality debut album in Doe Or Die, as he recaptures some of the microphone magic we first heard him display on Illmatic. The album could probably use a two or three song shaving, but as is, it’s still dope. And I’ll resist the obviously strong urge to compare it to Illmatic.




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Kool G Rap – 4, 5, 6 (September 26, 1995)

With DJ Polo by his side, Kool G Rap released three albums on the Cold Chillin’ imprint between 1989 and 1992. The first two releases (Road To The Riches and Wanted: Dead Or Alive) were respectable albums, while the third (Live And Let Die) was very uneven and easily the weakest out of the three. Even though the duo’s catalog never experienced a lot of commercial success, they were able to develop a cult like following on the underground scene and G Rap would earn his respect as one of the best to ever grip the mic, influencing many of the next classes’ top-tier emcees that came after him. In 1993, G Rap and Polo decided it was time to part ways, as G. Rap would pursue a solo career, releasing his first solo album, 4, 5, 6, in September of 1995.

G Rap would call on Dr. Butcher, T-Ray and Buckwild to sonically sculpt most of 4, 5, 6, which would also be his final release on Cold Chillin’. The album received mixed reviews upon its release, but like most of his catalog before it, the streets and underground embraced it.

I haven’t listened to 4, 5, 6 (whose title is a reference to a combination of winning numbers rolled on dice in a game of cee-lo) in years and most of its fuzzy in my memory bank. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane together and see how this turns out. Shall we?

Intro – The album begins with a skit that has a bunch of dudes partaking in a game of cee-lo, before G Rap shows up to the scene talkin’ big shit and gets involved. This bleeds into the next song…

4, 5, 6 – Dr. Butcher laces G Rap with some dusty boom bap shit that our host uses to share the intricacies of his cee-lo game, and of course, he always walks away the winner. What did you think he would say? He’s a rapper.

It’s A Shame – This was the lead single from 4, 5, 6. G Rap uses this one to list off and brag about the finer things and the lavish lifestyle that drug dealing has afforded him. G Rap’s boastful tone contradicts the guilty mood that Sean Brown’s crooning evokes on the hook, but I’m sure most street pharmacists wrestle with both sides. G Rap’s automatic weapon style flow works well over the smooth but hard backdrop.

Take ‘Em To War – G Rap invites B1 and Grimm (aka MF Grimm) to join him on this posse cut, as the threesome prepare for war and spill their foes’ blood all over the track. Grimm and B1 do a decent job warming things up for G Rap, who comes in on the final verse and completely murders shit (no pun intended): “I’m rainin’ on em’ (faster nigga), on yeah, we’re gainin’ on ’em, (Oh shit, he’s with somebody else) fuck it, put his brain on ’em, boom boom, no survivors, lift the nigga out his seat, when they find ’em, he’ll be a backseat driver, but I ain’t finished with the trigger yet, I’m lightin’ up a cigarette. Bang! Bang! I left another niggas wet”. T-Ray’s instrumental is kind of drab, but the dimness kind of works behind the threesomes’ bleak content.

Executioner Style – Our host continues on with his murder mission, riddling off witty punchlines like a machine gun with his signature lisped vocal that will leave you with laughing cramps: “Cause what I carry’s, much bigger than Dirty Harry’s, do a Hail Mary, I make Bloody Mary’s out of your capillaries, pieces of flesh, hangin’ off a niggas chest, cause the vest that he dressed, couldn’t fuck with the Smith N Wes.”. If you can listen to this song and not laugh at least once at one of G Rap’s hi-larious bars, go to your local Wal-Mart or Target, immediately and buy a sense of humor. I wasn’t crazy about the generic hook or Dr. Butcher’s sleepy instrumental, but G Rap spits his strongest bars of the evening by far on this one.

For Da Brothaz – This is probably my favorite song on 4, 5, 6. T-Ray provides a somber instrumental for G Rap to reminisce over a few of his fallen comrades. The backdrop never gets old and it sounds even better when listened to after hours.

Blowin’ Up In The World – Buckwild gets his first production credit of the evening, looping up Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” (which was a popular loop in the mid-nineties) that our host uses to celebrate his rise from rags to riches. Buckwild’s interpretation of the sample definitely has a happy feel than the ones I’ve heard prior. This was solid.

Fast Life – This was the second single released from 4, 5, 6. Nas drops by to exchange Mafioso raps with G Rap over a breezy Buckwild backdrop that I always assumed was produced by L.E.S, because of the low hanging fruit eighties R&B rip (Surface’s “Happy”), which seemed to be his bag on his early production work (see Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch” or AZ’s “Sugar Hill”). Regardless, this was a solid duet from the two Kings from Queens.

Ghetto Knows – More violent tales from the streets over a serious sounding Naughty Shorts instrumental. It’s not a terrible song, but easily the most skippable one on 4, 5, 6.

It’s A Shame (Da Butcher’s Mix) -Dr. Butcher loops up the same sample Diamond D used for the outro on Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop for this remix. The dusty boom-bap and the absence of Sean Brown’s vocal on the hook definitely give this mix a grittier feel than the O.G. mix.

Money On My Brain – Kool G Rap ends 4, 5, 6 with a bouncy Dr. Butcher produced backdrop, as B1 and Grimm make their second appearance of the evening and get out rapped by their host for a second time on this ode to money. I didn’t care much for this one, but I guess with only ten tracks prior, G Rap felt he had to fill the album out with something.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kool G Rap is one of the most underappreciated emcees in the history of hip-hop. Even though at times his lisp makes understanding his swiftly-paced rhymes hard to understand, he is upper echelon when it comes to witty wordplay and clever punchlines. On 4, 5, 6 we get glimpses of vintage G Rap from his days with DJ Polo, but much of the album is flooded with Mafioso raps and our host embracing the underworld persona that begin to become prevalent on Live And Let Die. Don’t get it twisted: Mafia G Rap can still rhyme better than most of his contemporaries, and he does a good job of painting vividly violent bars over a solid batch of boom-bap instrumentals. Overall, 4, 5, 6 is a fairly entertaining listen. It’s just hard to see one of the teachers playing the role of the student.



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RBX – The RBX Files (September 26, 1995)

The world was first introduced to RBX on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, where he dropped “bombs like Hiroshima” and made several other impressive cameos. After The Chronic and stealing the show from his cousin, Snoop Dogg on Doggystyle’s “Serial Killer” the following year, it seemed that RBX would be the next Death Row artist to blow. But before RBX could release an album on Death Row, he would fall out with Suge Knight and Dr. Dre, which led to his departure from the notorious label. In 1995, RBX would finally release his debut album The RBX Files on the independent label, Premeditated Records with distribution through Warner Brothers.

RBX would call on another former Death Row associate, Gregski, to produce The RBX Files from beginning to end. The album reached number 12 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts and 62 on the Billboard Top 200. I personally didn’t even know this album existed until I found it starring back at me in the used CD dollar bin at Cheapos a few years ago. I’m never listened to The RBX Files before today, nor am I familiar with any of the songs on the album. Let’s see how this goes.

Introduction – Over spooky sinister chords, RBX introduces the listener to the album and promises death to anyone who is brave enough to battle him: “Any attempts of battle will be futile…and imbeciles, they’ll all die, yes, die…they shall die”.  RBX has a dope voice that would sound great narrating movies and doing voice over work.

Brother Minister A Samad Muhammad – RBX uses a portion of the minister’s sermon to serve as a double meaning for a spiritual and physical escape from the enemy, which in his case is Death Row Records. This sets up the next song…

A.W.O.L. – The first official song of the evening is a dis record aimed at his former Death Row partner, Dr. Dre, who RBX fell out with sometime after The Chronic album and Doggystyle were recorded: “Dr. Dre, do you remember you was broke, and the whole rap industry thought you was a joke? Me, D.O.C. and D-O-G sat and made, lyrics to replenish your name like Gatorade, but you got thirsty for the money, punk, and disrespected the three that put you back up on it”. RBX lands some decent blows over Gregski’s slow moving funk groove, but never delivers a convincing knockout punch. I love the hook (built around RBX’s most popular Chronic bar: “I drop bombs like Hiroshima”) and the song is decent, but it’s safe to say that you won’t find this on anyone’s Top Ten Dis Record list.

Slip Into Long Beach – RBX and Gregski step the pace up a bit with this one, as RBX invites the listen to “slip into some fucked up shit” as he gets violent on some “catch a body” type shit and represents for his city, Long Beach. And just in case you were confused, RBX reminds you on the first verse “No, this aint Compton and Long Beach together, strictly Long Beach”. RBX’s unorthodox flow almost sounds like a spoken word poem, but it works over the decent instrumental.

The Edge – On this one RBX is just waiting for someone to push him over the edge so he can lace them with bullet holes, or as he says on the hook: “I’m close to the edge, bullets will be zippin’, zappin, bodies collapsin'”. RBX’s bloody bars sound great over Gregski’s hard backdrop.

Rough Is The Texture – RBX continues with his violent verses. This time he’s got his aim on every rapper in South Gate, Watts, Inglewood, South Central and Compton, only showing mercy to MC Eiht. Gregski’s instrumental sounds like a poor man’s Dr. Dre production, but it works behind RBX’s rough and theatrical vocal tone.

Burn – This sounds like some shit Satan would have on his playlist. Our host rides the dark and evil mid-tempo instrumental to perfection.

Our Time Is Now – Gregski loops up a portion of Roy Ayers “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” for the backdrop, while X continues on with his mass murder spree. RBX has an uncanny ability to rap over any beat and sound super comfortable while doing it.

Feathers In The Wind – More violent themes over a beautiful backdrop. Murder never sounded so poetic.

Rec Dialec Introduction (Interlude) – RBX sounds like he’s narrating for some Medieval Game of Thrones type shit on this one. His grandiose introduction is used to set up the next song…

Tundra – RBX sits this one out and lets his homies hold it down: E’D Ameng, Meticulous Mad 1 and D’Cipher all take part in this chilly rumble in the tundra. None of them spit top-notch bars, but Gregski’s subdued mid-tempo instrumental is tough and the reggae touched hook was dope.

Drama (Interlude) – Our host borrows a clip from the movie Strapped (remember that one?) to set up the next song…

Mom’s Are Cryin’ – Over a slow rumbling bluesy backdrop, RBX spins a few tales that end with a young brother dead and a mom crying over her deceased son. Not one of my favorite songs, but it’s cool.

BMS On The Attack – Over unnerving drums, our host uses one short verse to kill a devil white man, as he continues to eloquently do in a poetic fashion: “Relax, I’m about to take my respect, I lower and aim straight for his fuckin’ neck, Boo-ya! Boo-ya! Then I fade into the wind, hidden by night, reflected by moon, soon comes the wrath of blacks, actually facts…” This wasn’t great, but it was short, so that’s a good thing.

Sounds Of Reality – After spending pretty much all of the first part of RBX Files killing brothers, RBX decides to get conscious with this one. Gregski loops up a familiar Blackbyrds’ loop (see Gang Starr’s “Say Your Prayers” and CMW’s “Def Wish”) that creates a mysterious soundscape for our host. The song opens with voices chanting an old Negro spiritual (taken from the Roots soundtrack), then RBX comes in to shares some Nation of Islam theology and celebrates the black culture. This was cool.

Armageddon (Interlude) – Our host uses another portion of a Brother Minister A. Samad Muhammad sermon for this interlude, as he shares more Nation of Islam teachings and takes a shot at Snoop Dogg’s rap alias. RBX ends the interlude by sharing a conversation he had with a devil Caucasian man about the gang problem. Our host finds a silver lining to the problem, claiming one day the gangbangers will be the frontline soldiers when Armageddon takes place, which according to the Bible is the last battle between good and evil, to which RBX equates as black and white. I aint buying RBX’s philosophy, but it’s a great way to justify all the violence he’s spewed up to this point RBX Files.

Akebulan – The song title, even though it’s spelled incorrectly (see”Alkebulan”), is the oldest name for Africa, which in Arabic means “The land of the blacks”. RBX is joined by Ganjah K, as the two take turns detailing the battle of Armageddon from the front lines and talk about returning to the Motherland, even if it’s only spiritual. Gregski’s backdrop is concurrently somber and hard, which works well behind the song’s content.

Fightin’ The Devil – RBX sounds a lot like Chuck D on this one, as he aggressively attacks the accapella track, buckin’ down devils and droppin’ mathematics.  All that hard and it added absolutely nothing to the album.

No Time – Over a decent instrumental, RBX calls for black unity and for the black community to be prepared for the impending Armageddon war.

Our Time Is Now (Outro) – RBX briefly brings back the “Are Time Is Now” chant from early for this outro.

A.W.O.L. (Gregski Remix) – I didn’t care much for this remix. It sounds way too empty for my liking.

RBX might have the greatest underrated voice in hip-hop. It’s a perfect mixture of Professor X’s dramatics and Chuck D’s raw authoritative tone. He’s kind of the James Earl Jones of hip-hop, which is probably why his other alias is The Narrator. On The RBX Files, The Narrator does a quality job of mastering the ceremony throughout, as his voice and his ability to adapt to any beat and sounds confident while doing so, shines through. RBX’s content gets a bit redundant and early on he comes off bitter over the Death Row fallout, but for the most part he does his thing over a solid batch of Gregski instrumentals. The RBX Files’ is a solid album, but I can’t help but wonder what it would have sounded like under the direction of Dr. Dre.


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Count Bass-D – Pre-Life Crisis (September 26, 1995)

Dwight Conroy Farrell, better known by his alias, Count Bass D (which pays homage to the legendary jazz musician/band leader, Count Basie) is a musician, producer and emcee that most of you have probably never heard of. Then again, some of you may have heard the Bronx born, Ohio-raised emcee spit alongside MF Doom on “Potholderz” from his 2004 release Mm…Food, which Count also produced. I first heard Count Bass D on his cameo on the Grits’ (another group most of you probably aren’t familiar with, but you can read my review of their debut album here while you listen to it on your favorite DSP) “People Noticin’ Me” record from their sophomore effort, Factors Of The Seven. But before the MF Doom and Grits cameos, Count Bass D would sign a deal with the Work Group label (which was also the label home of the London-based acid jazz group Jamiroquai throughout the nineties and the label J-Lo’s debut album, On The 6, was released on), where he would release his debut album Pre-Life Crisis.

Count would be responsible for most of the production on Pre-Life Crisis, as he plays live drums, keys and bass on most of the album and invites a few other musicians to help with a portion of the load. Legend has it that because of Pre-Life Crisis‘ progressive style, the label found it hard to market the album, so it never got a proper promotional push and failed both commercially and critically, which eventually led to the label cutting ties with Count, which is a nice way of saying they dropped his ass. Since then, Count has released several projects independently and built a solid cult following over the past 25 years.

Several years ago, I found a cd copy of Pre-Life Crisis at a Pawn America for a dollar, still in its original packaging. And since I liked the cameos I heard from him previously, I spent my hard earn cash on it. Read along and let’s see if my dollar investment was worthwhile.

The Dozens – Count kicks off the album with a jazzy mid-tempo mash up that he uses to hurl insults at his competition (and himself) and boast of his lyrical prowess in his own unique lighthearted way. If you were born before 1985, you’ll recognize the hook, as it’s built around an old playground chant. Count also pulls from his church upbringing, briefly remixing and singing an old hymn at the end of a verse. This was a great way to start the evening.

Sandwiches (I Got A Feeling) – Apparently, this was the first and only single released from Pre-Life Crisis. Sandwiches is Count’s slang term for promiscuous women, aka hoes: “Speaking on sandwiches kinda fickle, she can be white, or wheat or even pumpernickel, she don’t even walk around being discrete, on the contraire she walks around looking for the meat”. He remixes and sings another old black church hymn for the hook that some might find blasphemous, but I found it comically entertaining. The true star of this one is CBD’s dope groove and the seductive guitar chords from his friend Mark Nash. Dope. Period.

T-Boz (Part 1/2) – A funky bop plays for about thirty seconds, while Count harmonizes over it.

Shake – CBD spits more fun-spirited rhymes over some cool jazzy instrumentation. The airy vocals of Kismick Martin and Vincent Sims on the hook and adlibs was a nice added touch.

T-Boz Tried To Talk To Me – CBD brings back the instrumental from the “T-Boz (Part 1/2)” interlude and shares his story of meeting the raspy-voiced singer from TLC in Atlanta, GA, where he claims she tried to get with him. Apparently his insecurity kept him from responding before the once in a lifetime opportunity passed him by. I laugh every time I hear him dis Jodeci’s former lead man on the second verse: “Rumors ran free, that she loved Jodeci, who gives a fuck about K-Ci? He’s just as skinny as me”. Whether the story is true or not, the hook is hi-larious and the record is entertaining as hell.

Carmex – This is definitely one of my least favorite tracks on Pre-Life Crisis. But the laidback live instrumentation is still enjoyable.

I Got Needs – CBD uses this one to have a heart to heart with his women, as he clearly expresses to her what he needs: “Whether it’s sexual or intellectual, I have needs which are emotional and very personal, you try to play the selfish role to always get what you want, which happens to be control, of my thoughts, of my whereabouts, trying not to pout, I get soft and never go off, but you try to take advantage of the nigga that you want me to be and you describe him to me”. Count builds the hook around a dope Lord Jamar line (whom he shouts out at the end of the song) and the soulful organ chords make the sophisticated instrumental sounds even more amazing.

Broke Thursday – In court jester fashion, Count laments about being broke over a melancholic bluesy backdrop: “Let me tell you what’s triflin’, I got a shirt with my name on the back but I couldn’t afford the hyphen, or the “O” or the “U” or the “A”, I hope you can recognize my name without the vowels, cause “C-N-T-B-S-S-D” is the new way of spelling Count Bass D due to a lack of money, maybe one day I’ll look up and manage money better, because there’s so many times I fuck it up like Chris Webber.” It’s always refreshing to hear an emcee display vulnerability, and it resonates even more when he can rap and the music behind him sounds good.

Agriculture – Count invites his homie Vincent Sims to join him, as the two take turns comparing sex to gardening and cap things off with a hook that has the two asking each other “Did you plant her?” and “Did she bear fruit?”, to which they both reply: “No, it wasn’t in the season.” The hook is massively corny, the rhymes are mildly cheesy (ecspecially Vincent’s) and the instrumental is too pretty and refined for my taste buds. This is definitely my least favorite song on Pre-Life Crisis.

Brown – Our host sounds super confident and spits some of his strongest bars of the evening on this one, proclaiming “I feel better than Tony Toni Tone bustin’ a nut without a rubber on, word is bond, cause I got the clout ya understand? My records out sell a sellout like the Cream of Wheat Man.” But even stronger than his bars is the sick groove he creates to place them on. This is easily my favorite song on Pre-Life Crisis.

The Hate Game – CBD sticks with the mellow smooth jazzy instrumentation and dedicates this one to all his haters. The hook is kind of annoying, but overall, it’s a solid record.

Pink Tornado – The song title is Count’s unique term for big mouthed people whose tongues won’t stop moving. Our host is fed up with people shit talkin’ and backbiting (I laugh every time I hear him say “Your album’s phat, nigga please, rhymin’ aint shit, I play drums, bass and keys.”), so he lets them have it over this pleasingly melodic bop. I like this one, and I love the song title.

Sunday School – This one definitely brought me back to my childhood days as a peasy-headed church boy. Count hooks up a smooth groove and reminisces on the good old innocent days of Sunday School: “Back in the day we use to go to Sunday School, riding the church bus, actin’ a fool, breath smellin’ like milk from that bowl of cereal, our backs are extra itchy from the wool material, tight dress shoes and clip-on ties, you want to smile for pictures but the sun was in your eyes, we buy a bag of sweets before we got to the bus stop, strictly Jolly Ranchers cause you can’t hide Blow Pops, the toughest niggas never had no beef, are tongues were purple and green with Now & Laters stickin’ to our teeth.” My connection to the song’s sentiment might make me a little bias, but I like this one.

Baker’s Dozen – Clever title. CBD ends Pre-Life Crisis by bringing back the instrumental from the opening track.

On “Brown” Count Bass-D makes a very profound statement and asks an interesting rhetorical question in jest: “Niggas out here tryna be 3pac and Spice-2, so what’s an original emcee to do?” Pre-Life Crisis is his rebuttal. Count goes hard against the grain, avoiding all the hardcore Mafioso materialistic rap that begin to flood hip-hop in the mid-nineties and offers a quirky, playful, vulnerable and self-deprecating style, occasionally mixing in some braggadocio shit, just so you don’t mistake his silliness for a wack emcee. Musically, CBD’s musicianship makes for a cohesive batch of cool jazzy-seasoned hip-hop instrumentals with sprinkles of church influence that come together to form feel good vibes. There are a few songs on Pre-Life Crisis that could have been left off, but their inclusion doesn’t disrupt the overall flow of the album. Pre-Life Crisis is a great debut album from Count Bass D that was ahead of its time and unfortunately will probably never get the retro-props it deserves from the masses.



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