The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??! (January 17, 1995)

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that The Roots are my second favorite hip-hop group of all-time, next to who I’m sure you can figure out if you read this blog with any regularity. Since the mid-nineties, hip-hop’s first official band (I know Stetsasonic came first, but does a drummer and keyboardist qualify as a band?) has seen many line-up changes, but has consistently given the world quality music (well, there were a couple of questionable moments, like Rising Down and …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, but that’s a discussion for another day), led by their two cornerstones, Questlove (on the drums) and emcee extraordinaire, Black Thought (who ya’ll might want to start putting on your greatest of all-time lists). The Roots released Organix independently in 1993 (you can read my thoughts on that album here), but their official label release (on Geffen) wouldn’t come until 1995 in the form of Do You Want More?!!!??!

Do You Want More?!!!??! was my first introduction to The Roots, as I wouldn’t hear Organix until 20 years after it was released. The album builds on Organix’ formula of live jazz infused hip-hop instrumentation, or as Black Thought once so elegantly called it: organic hip-hop jazz. Do You Want More?!!!??! would slowly build momentum, becoming a critical darling, as many straddled the line of accepting The Roots as a true hip-hop group (once upon a time live instrumentation and bands were frowned upon by a lot of so-called true hip-hop heads). Even slower would be the album’s commercial success, as it would take 20 years for it to reach gold status.

Let’s revisit Do You Want More?!!!??! together, and if you still have a physical copy, pull out the very detailed liners notes (one of the many things I love about the majority of The Roots albums) and check ’em out while you listen. I’m sure they’ll make you chuckle at least once.

Intro/There’s Something Goin’ OnDo You Want More?!!!??! opens with a quick snippet taken from one of The Roots live shows (performing “I’m Out Deah”, which is also on Organix), letting the listener know they’re about to experience “some organic hip-hop jazz”. Then Leonard Hubbard (aka Hub) drops a thick drowsy bass line, backed by Quest’s scarce drums, while he, Black Thought and Malik B repeat “There’s something goin’ on” over and over again, in different tones.

Proceed – This was the second single released from Do You Want More?. Questlove and the gang hook up a beautiful melancholy jazz groove that Black Thought and Malik B use to warm up on for the evening. This is a classic record that’s great for consoling you when you’ve got a bad case of the Mondays.

Distortion To Static – This was the lead single from Do You Want More? and the song that introduced most people (including myself) to The Roots. Quest provides the drums and sinister laugh, Hub, the nasty bass line and Scott Storch brings the dark chords on the keys. Thought completely annihilates the instrumentation with his verse and Malik holds his own on the second verse (Quest hilariously pokes fun at one of Malik’s lines in the liner notes for this song, calling him “the only man to ever witness “cattle in the steeple”). This one sounds just as great today as it did back in ’95.

Mellow My Man – Quest and dem slide Thought and Malik a smooth mid-tempo groove that the duo use to take turns spitting freestyle bars over. Thought and Malik sound good, but the jazzy groove carries this one.

I Remain Calm – The band hooks up a high energy banger (that the liner notes mention includes an “irritating what the hell is she saying background” vocal courtesy of Shorty No Mas, who also appeared on Organix) for Malik and Thought to feast on. Malik bats first and doubles with a solid verse, then Thought steps up to the mic and knocks this shit dead out of the stadium on the first pitch with his stellar verse. This shit was, is and will always be, ill.

Datskat – Another dope jazz groove brought to you courtesy of the The Roots. Thought and Malik use it to play double agents as rappers and scatters.

Lazy Afternoon –  Quest and the fellas put together a laidback funk groove that Thought uses to repeat the same verse three times about a lazy Saturday afternoon. Not my favorite song on the album, but BT does manage to shout out ATCQ and “Electric Relaxation” in his verse (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check).

? Vs. Rahzel – Questlove provides the drums, while Rahzel provides everything else, including the kitchen sink, as he plays the emcee, horns section and bass, flawlessly with his voice. This makes for an enjoyable two man jam session.

Do You Want More?!!!??! – Black Thought may be the only emcee in the history of hip-hop to “unleash the bagpipes on ’em”. The song starts with bagpipes playing (courtesy of Rufus Harley) before the drums and the rest of the instruments join in to complete a dope backdrop that BT completely dismantles in one verse with his “fly Philly nigga” shit (“So, niggas best get out of my path, I’m on point like a gat, the basket case, I waste emcees with rapture taste, facin’ these leads to cats diminished, they be pullin’ the mic out that ass when I get finished, Administrative Assistant I’m not, yo, I’m the principal, nigga take a shot like I’m invincible, figure me to be hardcore, my input cuts your jaw, for real, for sure, do you want more?”). And just to rub it in these basic emcees’ faces, Thought does an ill mimic of turntables cutting with his voice, giving an example of what true showmanship looks like. This is one of the greatest title songs in hip-hop history (someday I’ll have to make a list).

What Goes On Pt. 7 – The Roots lay down a smooth slightly melancholy soundscape for Thought, Malik B and special guest, Elo The Cosmic Eye (who sounds a lot like Dice Raw) to spit verses on. Of course, Thought walks away with this one, as he starts his verse with one of the most blunt “oh, by the way” opening bars (Niggas can not see me, cannot be me or, capture the metaphoric phrase blasted off stage when I tour, I am but a messenger born to blow up, my niggas new it all the time, lyrically, I was a dime at the age of nine, shorty Black could rhyme, on the mic, I never wasted time”), but the other two-thirds of the trio hold their own as well. This must have been one of the last songs recorded for Do You Want More?, as the instrumentation feels a lot like the vibes on  Illadelph Halflife. Great song that will leave you wanting to hear the first six parts.

Essaywhuman?!!!??! – This was taken from a recording of one of The Roots lives shows at the Trocodero in Philly (on December 15, 1993, to be exact…I love liner notes). It captures The Roots in a jam session with Black Thought vibing and introducing each part of the band that also mimics his scats. I didn’t care much for this one back in my teen years, but now as a full grown man, I can appreciate it more.

Swept Away – The band hooks up a creamy/dreamy groove (the same groove that I imagine was running through Questlove’s head on the album cover) that Malik and Thought each get off qualities verses on. This one is simply, beautiful.

You Ain’t Fly – The Roots dibble in their r&b bag with this one. The band plays a dope groove with a late eighties feel, while Thought, Malik and Questlove take turns discussing women who they were initially attracted to, but something in their talk, walk or attitude made them think otherwise. Except for Quest, who deals with rejection from the object of his affection by downplaying how fly she really is, which I’m sure most of us guys have done once or twice.

Silent Treatment – Staying in their r&b bag, the band puts together a somber backdrop for Black Thought (who the liner notes hi-lariously credit simply as “lonely” for this song) to spit a love ballad about his boo who is now giving him the cold shoulder. This is how a r&b love song should sound.

The Lesson Pt. 1 – Rahzel takes care of all the production with this one, providing the beat-box and the vocal bass (Quest does provide the occasional squeal), which are the Double Dutch ropes that Thought and long term Roots affiliate, Dice Raw jump in and rip up. The liner notes say Dice Raw’s verse was a true freestyle that he did in one take, which is really impressive, considering he was only 15 at the time.

The Unlocking – The album ends with a spoken word piece from Ursula Rucker, which would become a tradition on the next few Roots’ albums. The Roots bring back the instrumental from the opening song that Rucker uses to share a poem from the perspective of a hurt woman who lets the man she used to love and seven of his homeboys run a train on her. But, it ends with a bit of a twist, giving validation to the old adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. If you’re patience enough to wait a few minutes after the poem ends, at the 7 minute 50 second mark, a quick karate skit comes in (that must have been an inside joke) that adds absolutely nothing to the experience.

Thought’s flow was still slightly animated on Do You Want More?!!!??!, but his word wizardry definitely matured since Organix. And Malik B playing Robin to his Batman was a nice added touch (where do you rate Malik B as a “B mic” in hip-hop history? Hit me in the comments). The Roots also improved musically since Organix, as they string together even tighter organic hip-hop jazz grooves. And when you couple the exceptional soundscapes with top-notch emceeing, you get a hip-hop classic. 1995 is off to a great start!

-Deedub

 

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Smif-N-Wessun – Dah Shinin’ (January 10, 1995)

What better way to get a break away from all the coronavirus talk than with hip-hop and a good read? Lets get 1995 underway, and remember to cover your mouths when you cough and wash your damn hands!

For those who don’t know, Smif-N-Wessun are the Brooklyn-based duo of Tek and Steele, who are also part of the Brooklyn collective, Boot Camp Click. The first time I heard Smif-N-Wessun rhyme was on Black Moon’s classic 1993 debut, Enta Da Stage, where the duo rhymed on two of the album’s songs (“Black Smif-N-Wessun” and “U Da Man”), making a pretty solid first impression. Smif-N-Wessun were able to parlay their relationship with Black Moon into a deal and would also become label mates with them on Nervous Records, releasing their debut album Dah Shinin’ at the beginning of 1995.

Smif-N-Wessun would hand over the production keys to Da Beatminerz for Da Shinin’s entire sixteen tracks. The album was deemed a critical darling and in 1998 The Source put it on their list of 100 Best Rap Albums of All-Time (even though they only gave it a mediocre three mics when it was initially released). I wore this album out when it came out back in ’95, but haven’t listened to it in years. Let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

Side note: Da Shinin‘s artwork pays homage to Roy Ayers’ 1971 album cover, He’s Coming.

Timz N Hood Chek – The first track of the evening features an ill blunted bassy Evil Dee produced track and finds Steele and Tek warming up for the evening, making sure all the listeners have their hoodies and Timberlands on.

Wrektime – Mr. Walt lays down a smooth mid-tempo groove that Tek and Steele use to “to puff mad la and catch wreck with their crew” over. This was dope.

Wontime – Tek and Steele sound great spittn’ their gutter rhymes over this hard Beatminerz produced instrumental. And Rock’s rich baritone vocal sounds both amazing and intimidating on the hook.

Wrekonize – Our hosts chill out and lamp on Babee Paul’s laidback melodic backdrop, as the Brooklyn duo remind all heads that Smif-N-Wessun’s on the rise, so, you better “wrekonize”. Well done, gents.

Sound Bwoy Bureill – Evil Dee constructs a hard and dark instrumental for Steele, Tek and two-thirds of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz aka O.G.C. (Top Dog and Starang Wondah) to plaster with more gutter street rhymes, which coordinates with the backdrop, beautifully. Jahdan Blakkamore babbles chants all over the hook, and even though I have no idea what he’s saying, it sounds amazing.

K.I.M. – Tek and Steele keep it movin’ right along with more dopeness.

Bucktown – This was the lead single from Dah Shinin’. Da Beatminerz take a cold horn loop and surround it with ill elements to create a sinister soundscape. It makes for the perfect canvas for Tek and Steele to paint with their gutter bars, as they rep their hometown that they affectionately call Bucktown (“Standing there, with my nappy hair, and my dirty gear, au revoir, now I’m up outta here, pigs look me up and down with a frown, is it because I’m brown or it because I’m from Bucktown?”). Classic.

Stand Strong – Steele and Tek take vows to forever stand strong on their own two, while Evil Dee builds the smooth instrumental around a soulful Isaac Hayes loop, completing one of my favorite songs in Smif-N-Wessun’s catalog.

Shinin…. – Evil Dee hooks up a dope melodic instrumental whose drums give it African tribal vibes. This interlude marks the beginning of side two of Da Shinin’, or the Sonset side if you’re listening to it on cassette.

Next Shit – Mr. Walt lays out a beautiful backdrop for our hosts to spew more street themes and get high on. I absolutely love the serene vibes this one gives off, and Buckshot’s harmonized hook was a nice added touch.

Cession At Da Doghillee – The entire Boot Camp Click comes out to play on this one: Heltah Skeltah (Ruck aka Sean Price (rip) and Rock), O.G.C. (Louieville Sluggah, Starang Wondah and Top Dog) and Black Moon’s lead emcee, Buckshot join Tek and Steele on this family affair cipher. Evil Dee’s instrumental is the perfect balance of soft and dark as he brilliantly weaves a soothing flute and a dusty haunting loop in and out of his backdrop. Buckshot is the only one that doesn’t spit a verse, as he’s left once again to handle hook and adlib duties. It would have been nice to hear him spit a sixteen, but his melodic and catchy hook ends up being the cherry on top of this dope posse joint.

Hellucination – Evil Dee takes a creamy Minnie Riperton sample and turns it into a dark and haunting backdrop that Tek and Steele use to spin a hood tale about money, crime, murder, cops and weed. They do a pretty solid job of tag teaming the mic, but Evil Dee’s stellar production work on this one will leave you in a trance.

Home Sweet Home – Apparently Smif-N-Wessun were big fans of Roy Ayers, as they not only drew inspiration from him for Dah Shinin‘s album cover, but Da Beatminerz also sample Ayers’ “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” for this song and turn it into a dope instrumental. Tek and Steele do a serviceable job paying respect and articulating a hood visual of the borough they call home, but the hypnotic bass line on this one is the true star.

Wipe Ya Mouf – I love this song title. Babee Paul hooks up a mellow groove (suitable for midnight marauding) that our hosts use to call out dudes that jock other dudes, or as Tek and Steele call them: dick riders. Buckshot makes his final appearance of the evening, adding more dope melodic adlibs at the end of the song.

Let’s Git It On – This was the second single released from Dah Shinin’. Da Beatminerz hook up a bangin’ bass line and hard drums for Tek and Steele to get on their underappreciated emcee shit and call out all would be competitors. This is a tough record and a forgotten classic.

P.N.C. Intro – If you’ve never listened to Dah Shinin’ before, “PNC” is an acronym for Partners In Crime. For some reason Tek and Steele felt it was necessary to make an intro with their homie explaining what “PNC” means.

P.N.C. – The song begins with Steele spittin’ an acapella verse dedicated to one of his deceased bredrin (which also winds up being the final verse on this song). Then Evil Dee brings in the cool and mellow One Way loop and lays up-tempo drums underneath it, as Tek and Steele use it to pledge their devotion to one another and their crew.

The skillful production Mr. Walt, DJ Evil Dee, Rich Blak and Babee Paul displayed on Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage is even sharper on Dah Shinin’, as the foursome lace together a flawless and brilliant batch of instrumentals for Smif-N-Wessun to spew their gritty and grimy street rhymes on with great chemistry. And I sure hope Timberland cut them a check for the advertising they gave them on this album (they literally mention Timbs on at least half of the album’s tracks). Dah Shinin’ is an unheralded classic that has held up great over time.

-Deedub

 

 

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Ultramagnetic MC’s – The Four Horsemen (August 10, 1993)

I’ll admit, I was late to the Ultramagnetic MC’s party. When they hit planet earth in ’88, I was still a young whippersnapper and missed out on Ced Gee’s dope beats and Kool Keith’s unique, but entertaining rhyme schemes. I didn’t listened to Critical Beatdown in its entirety until 2o years after its release, and I didn’t “thoroughly” listen to it until 2011 when I reviewed it for this blog. You can read my thoughts on it here, or I can just tell you that I thought it was a great, nearly flawless debut from the Bronx-based foursome that is definitely worthy to be deem a classic. The greatness that was Critical Beatdown sent me on a mission to find the rest of the Ultramagnetic catalog, and the first one I found was their third release, The Four Horsemen.

After releasing Critical Beatdown on Next Plateau, Ultramagnetic ended up leaving and signing to Mercury where they would release their sophomore effort Funk Your Head Up, which flopped both commercially and critically (I’ve never heard the album. I’m only familiar with the lead single “Poppa Large”, so I’m not sure how bad the album actually was). Most credit the album’s failure to the label who allegedly brought in outside producers to remix most of the songs, against Ultramagnetic’s wishes. They would then part ways with Mercury and sign to Wild Pitch where they would release their third full length, The Four Horsemen.

Ced Gee and the team would be back in full creative control on The Four Horsemen, as they would handle most of the production and bring in Godfather Don to produce a handful of tracks. Many felt that the album marked Ultramagnetic’s return to their Critical Beatdown form. Let’s take a listen and see. And if the album is trash, this time they can’t blame the label.

We Are The Horsemen – The album starts with a very average instrumental and Kool Keith and Ced Gee on some intergalactical-outerspace-scientifical shit. And it sounds like a bunch of bullshit.

Checkin My Style – Godfather Don slides Keith some dark slick shit to go dolo over, as he gets off one quick freestyle verse. Keith’s unorthodox flow sounds a lot better on this track compared to the opening song, even if his last line was kind of creepy and questionable (“Boy, as I kick up, you proud of me,  you know it’s me, I got more muscle to flex and show than Jodeci, take off those panties, I turn boys to men”). Regardless, this one was pretty dope.

Two Brothers With Checks (San Francisco, Harvey) – Over a forgettable backdrop, Ced and Keith utter random rhymes and throw in a bunch of baseball references. I’m not sure what the title means, but this song is so trash I wouldn’t spend a second of my time or energy trying to find out.

Raise It Up – Godfather Don serves Ultramagnetic up with some more heat, or as Keith calls it at the beginning of the song: “smooth chicken” served with “hot jazz biscuits and blues butter”. Not only does Godpoppa Don provide a slick instrumental, but he also adds a verse next to Keith and Ced’s, and in my opinion, he sounds better than his gracious hosts. This was dope.

Saga Of Dandy, The Devil & Day – Ced and Keith use this one to give props to the underappreciated players from the old Negro Leagues. Godfather Don lays down a smooth mid-tempo canvas that evokes lazy and reminiscing vibes, as the duo take a trip down memory lane, recalling some of the unsung heroes of that era. I like the song and love the sentiment.

Delta Force II – The instrumental is mildly dope, but Ced Gee’s choppy flow is hard to listen to over the course of three consecutive verses.

Adventures Of Herman’s Lust (Moe Love III) – Ultramagnetic’s resident deejay, Moe Love gets a chance to display his skills on the ones and two’s. I’ve never been a big fan of DJ cut records, but this was cool, and it has a very interesting song title.

See The Man On The Street – This one starts with a drunken horn loop, then Godpoppa Don drops an epically nasty horn loop and an ill beat that Keith freaks with his odd ball flow as he’s on the hunt to beat up and murder emcees. I would have loved to hear Sadat X join him on this one. Matter of fact, I would like to hear a project with the two flexin’ their unique rhyme styles. Maybe not a full-length, but a 5 to 6 song EP would suffice.

Bring It Down To Earth – Decent filler material.

Don’t Be Scared – The cupbearer and fourth member of Ultramagnetic MC’s, TR Love makes his only appearance of the evening, as he and longtime Ultramagnetic affiliate, Tim Dog (rip) join Ced and Keith on this posse joint. This was pretty uneventful, but Moe Love does cut up a vocal sample from Q-Tip at the beginning of the song, fulfilling my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

One, Two, One, Two – Yet another Kool Keith solo joint. Over a decent mid-tempo groove, Keith spits more freestyle rhymes ending most of his bars by saying the same word twice, hence the title of the song. It’s far from an amazing record, but not a terrible song.

Time To Catch A Body – Nothing to listen to more than once.

Yo Black – Keith is in battle mode for his final solo joint of the night. He and the boys build the backdrop around the classic guitar riff from JB’s “The Payback”, which never seems to get old. This is the record that sparked Freddie Foxxx to dis Ultramagnetic on the “Crazy Like A Foxxx” dis record that I covered a few post ago (read my thoughts on that record here), as it appears Keith was taking shots at the bully emcee with lines like “How can you put up a fox against an alligator?” and “Don’t try to come back and cut your hair bald, B”. Keith has said in interviews that the “fox” reference was coincidental and not a shot at the Long Island emcee, and the two have since made up, as Freddie would make a cameo on Keith’s Matthew project in 2000. I like the instrumental and Keith sounds sharper on this record than he has for the majority of The Four Horsemen.

Big Booty – Over a barely decent instrumental, Ced and Keith spit overly abstract rhymes about stickin’ big booty chicks. With the exception of the female voice moaning at the beginning of the song, sex never sounded so boring.

The Four Horsemen is a far cry from the Ultramagnetic MC’s that I was first introduced to on Critical Beatdown. Somewhere in between the two albums, Ced Gee adopted a choppy poor man’s Chuck D flow, Kool Keith’s once clever slightly off-kilter rhyme pattern and sharp lines transformed to odd ball randomness and the production is not nearly as potent or consistent as their debut album. The Four Horsemen comes with a few bright spots (namely the four songs that Godfather Don produced), but ultimately it sounds like a group whose glory days were far behind them.

-Deedub

 

 

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Showbiz & A.G. – Runaway Slave (September 22, 1992)


 

After making several references to Showbiz and the Diggin’ In The Crates crew in the past few posts, it struck me that I missed one of the foundational pieces in the D.I.T.C. catalog, Runaway Slave. Enjoy the read. 

Diggin’ In The Crates, also known as D.I.T.C. is an unsung hip-hop crew that should be, but rarely is, mentioned in the same breath as The Juice Crew and The Native Tongue. In the early to mid-nineties the eight man collective of Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, Big L, O.C., Buckwild and the two man duo and subject of today’s post, Showbiz and A.G, helped form the sound of East Coast hip-hop, with boom-bap drums, jazzy loops and braggadocios rhymes mixed with witty punchlines.

Showbiz, Diamond D and Lord Finesse all group up together in The Bronx, and hip-hop would bring them together as the threesome would soon forge the sound for D.I.T.C. and several other artist through the years. Diamond D would be the first out of the crew to officially release music, as one-half of the short-lived duo Ultimate Force, who released one 12 inch single on Strong City Records in 1989. Finesse would be the first to release a full album, dropping his first joint with DJ Mike Smooth, Funky Technician in 1990 on Wild Pitch, and his sophomore effort Return Of The Funky Man in February of 1992 on Giant/Reprise. Less than two months after the release of Return Of The Funky Man, Showbiz & A.G. would release their debut EP Soul Clap, (which would also feature the posse cut “Diggin’ In The Crates” marking the first time the term was used for the Bronx crew). At the end of 1992 DITC would make an even bigger impression as Diamond D would release his classic debut Stunt, Blunts & Hip-Hop and Showbiz & AG would drop their highly coveted full-length, Runaway Slave.

Showbiz would produce the entirety of Runaway Slave with a few co-production credits going to Diamond D, while most of the D.I.T.C. crew would make a cameo appearance on the album with a verse or by giving a shout out on an interlude. The album didn’t earn the duo any plaques, but it definitely received heaps of critical acclaim, and many consider it to be a classic.

It’s been a while since I listened to Runaway Slave. Let’s revisit it and see if it’s worthy of classic status.

Still Diggin’ – The first song of the evening finds Showbiz and Diamond D sharing the microphone over a simple drum beat and a couple of dope horn loops. It was kind of weird not to hear A.G. rhyming on this opening track, considering he’s the main emcee in the group and all. But it still ends up being a decent song and a nice warm up for the rest of the show. Side note: Showbiz shouts out A Tribe Called Quest at the end of the song, so you can check off “Tribe Degrees of Separation” for this post.

Fat Pockets – This was the second single released from Runaway Slave. Showbiz hooks up a smooth funked-out guitar loop and sprinkles a high energy horn sample over his rough drums. He also bugs out on his last verse as he spits:”I’m hungry enough to grow fangs, here’s a dollar go to the store, but bring me back my fuckin’ change”. And “gettin'” head on the escalator” is mad wild. The single/video version uses a different dope high energy backdrop, but I prefer this smoother mix.

Bounce Ta This – This was the lead single from Runaway Slave. Dres from Black Sheep stops by to spit a verse next to A.G. over a super generic Showbiz backdrop. A.G. sounds better than his guest on this one, but the song still sounds corny as hell to me.

More Than One Way Out Of The Ghetto – This one starts with a short interlude that features Showbiz and his homey, Lou Dog talking over the same instrumental that UTD rhymed over on “Moon In Cancer”. Then Show drops a somber horn loop before the drums drop and a few ill piano stabs come in for A.G. to discuss his short stent as a drug dealer until he got caught, did a short bid, got out decided to rap his way out of the ghetto. Solid song, great message.

Silence Of The Lambs (Remix) – After Kid Capri stops by and gives a quick shout out to our hosts over a smooth organ loop, Showbiz drops an enormous jazzy horn loop that ends up being the highlight of the song. The rest of the instrumental is flat and I wasn’t impressed by A.G. or Showbiz’ rhymes.

40 Acres And My Props – Show and Andre use this one to demand their props from the streets and papers from the record companies. This might be the only time Showbiz out rhymed AG on a track. But the true star of this one is Showbiz’ brilliant jazzy backdrop.

Runaway Slave – The title track finds A.G. addressing the issues and traps that black men are forced to deal with living in the hood, and the importance of forming a “runaway slave mentality” to escape and overcome the snares laid before them. Show provides dope drums and a few ill horn loops that compliment Andre’s conscious rhymes, perfectly.

Hard To Kill – Easily the most successful and well-known member of DITC, Fat Joe stops by to give Show and Dre some love at the start of this one. Then A.G. gives us a dosage of “mental slavery”, as he goes on a killing spree through his two verses, before telling the listener in the song’s last few bars that he did this song just to prove that he’s versatile. I didn’t care much for A.G.’s rhymes or for Showbiz and Diamond D’s instrumental.

Hold Ya Head – Show lays a beautiful somber instrumental for he and A.G. to rap over, as they encourage the listener to hold their head and push through whatever life throws your way. This one still sounds great after all these years.

He Say, She Say – On this one A.G.’s addressing some of the dangers that can come with rumors and gossip. Cool concept (and I like the Greg Nice vocal sample on the hook), but the lyrics were boring and the instrumental was trash.

Represent – Lord Finesse, DeShawn and Big L join A.G. on this cipher joint. Showbiz provides a solid instrumental and all the guests rap circles around their host. This is definitely an underrated/underappreciated posse cut.

Silence Of The Lambs – I like this instrumental more than the remix.

Party Groove (Bass Mix) – I guess this was Showbiz and A.G.’s attempt at a club joint. Showbiz lays down an up-tempo backdrop and sprinkles a melodic loop over it. The duo’s lyrics are pretty generic and the instrumental is kind of cheesy, but I still found it mildly enjoyable.

Soul Clap (Short Version) – This was the song that would introduce Showbiz & A.G. to the world. Show and Diamond D build the dope backdrop around a few loops borrowed from Fred Wesley and The J.B.’s “Doing It To Death”and turn it into a nasty instrumental for A.G. to spit over, and he sounds comfortable and confident in the process. I would definitely give this record a classic status.

Catchin’ Wreck – Show and A.G. take turns talkin’ their shit over another dope Showbiz instrumental. I love the flute loop Show sprinkles throughout the song.

Party Groove Instrumental – Showbiz adds a few bells (a Kid Capri vocal loop) and removes a few whistles (the melodic sample) from the “Bass Mix”. Other than that, it plays as it reads.

I’ve never felt that Showbiz deserved to be put on the same level as a Premo, Pete Rock or Large Professor. He definitely has created some certified bangers and dope records, but he’s always seemed a bit inconsistent through the years. After revisiting Runaway Slave these past few weeks I was reminded why some people elevate him to that top-tier hip-hop producer level, as he strings together a batch of dope boom-bap instrumentals built heavily around slick jazzy horn and piano loops that helped define early to mid-nineties East Coast hip-hop. And while no one will argue that A.G. deserves to be on the GOAT list, he does a solid job of mastering the ceremony with his simplistic flow throughout. Runaway Slave is not a flawless effort,

-Deedub

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Best and Worst of 1994

Another year complete! 1994 was a great year in hip-hop and I hope I served it justice with my reviews. Here are my best and worst of the year. I have a few house cleaning things to do and then we’ll jump into 1995. Let me know if you agree or disagree with my picks in the comments. Enjoy! 

Worst Moniker: The Caucasian – If you recall, he spit a few bars on SFC’s “Ladies and Gents” from the Illumination album. Come on, bro…you couldn’t come up with something better than that? That would be like me calling myself “The Black”. Honorable Mentions: Jingle Bel (Yaggfu Front), DJ Cut No Slack Cartoon (SFC – Illumination).

Worst Song Title: “Steam From The Knot” – This was DoItAll’s solo joint from Lords of the Underground’s sophomore album, Keepers Of The Funk. The song was trash but the song title was completely senseless. Honorable Mentions: “Boof Baf” (Fugees), “C-Mode Fizzunk”(SFC),”Red Riding Good”(Raw Fusion).

Worst Album Title: Hoochiefied Funk – No extra commentary required. Honorable Mention: Theme + Echo =Krill – An awful equation and way too wordy.

Worst Album Artwork: Ahmad – The profile pic of Ahmad was cool, but the oddly shaped red nonagon (is that supposed to be an “A”?) with a red Kangol hanging off of one of the corners with a pic of Ahmad posing in his hood stance placed inside of it, looks extremely cheesy. Go ahead, take a look and get a good laugh in. Honorable Mentions: Illumination, Hoochiefied Funk, A Constipated Monkey.

Worst Song: “Red Riding Good” (Raw Fusion) – Money B takes an innocent fairy tale and turns it into a raunchy misogynistic debacle. Honorable Mentions: “Cheri” (Nice & Smooth) – Very bad rap and r&b. “Steam From My Knot”(Lords of the Underground), “Giggles” (Fugees), and just about every song on Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Chief Boot Knocka.

Worst Album: Chief Boot Knocka – Mix-A-Lot gives pimpin’ a bad name and a terrible album. Honorable Mention: Hoochiefied Funk.

Best Moniker: Carlton Fisk (Tical) – It takes balls to make your alias the name of a Hall of Fame baseball player…or is that really his government? Honorable Mentions: Dobbs The Wino (It Takes A Thief) – No shame in his game, and the shit sounds funny as hell.

Best Song Title: “My Mind Spray” (Jeru Da Damaja) – It just sounds ill. Honorable Mentions: “Ache’n For Acres” (Arrested Development), “Some Speak Ill Thoughts” (UMC’s), “Machine Gun Funk” (Notorious B.I.G.), “Honeydips In Gotham” (Boogie Monsters), “Black Ego” (Digable Planets).

Best Album Artwork: Illmatic – The ill pic of a young ice-grilled-peasy-headed Nasir Jones hovering over his Queensbridge projects will forever be one of the most creative, reverenced and mimicked artwork covers in hip-hop history.

Best Album Title: Illmatic – I mean, this blog is pretty much named after it. Honorable Mentions: Fear Itself, Breakin’ Combs, Hard To Earn, Ill Communication.

Best Song: “I Used To Love H.E.R.” (Common) – There is something amazingly wonderful about an emcee being able to use a metaphor and turn it into a brilliantly mapped out story and song. Common does just that with this song, as he flawlessly compares hip-hop to a woman, chronicling his relationship with her throughout his life. No ID adds the perfect melodic and somber backdrop to perfect this masterpiece, that in my opinion is worthy of a spot in the top ten hip-hop songs of all-time. Honorable Mentions: “Code Of The Streets”, “The Planet”, “Mass Appeal” (Gang Starr), “Come Clean” (Jeru Da Damaja), “The World Is Yours”, “One Love” (Nas), “Regulate” (Warren G),  “Back In The Day Remix” (Ahmad), “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”(Outkast), “Nappy Heads Remix” (Fugees), “Flava In Ya Ear” (Craig Mack), “Warning”, “Big Poppa” (Notorious B.I.G.), “Time’s Up” (O.C.), “I Seen A Man Die” (Scarface).

Sleeper Album: Breakin’ Combs – A great debut from Dred Scott that has gone unsung and unnoticed through the years. Honorable Mentions: The Sun Rises In The East (The only reason this didn’t beat out Breakin’ Combs is because I don’t know if it truly qualifies as a sleeper, considering it was completely produced by Premo and had one of the sickest hip-hop songs of the year, in “Come Clean”), Super Tight, Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album

Best Album: Illmatic – In my opinion Illmatic is the greatest hip-hop album ever created. Nothing more to say. But if you insist, read my thoughts on the album here. Honorable Mentions: Word…Life, Resurrection, Ready To Die, Hard To Earn – Unfortunately they all dropped in the same year as Illmatic.

-Deedub

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Freddie Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles – Crazy Like A Foxxx (Recorded 1993-94)

Freddie Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles may be the most talented emcee whose talent never translated to a successful rap career. The Long Island native started as part of the Supreme Force, who released a few 12″ singles in the mid-eighties, but disbanded before releasing a full project. Legend has it that Freddie was originally slated to be the emcee on “Eric B Is President”, but after he missed the session, a young Rakim filled in, and the rest is history. Freddie stayed persistent and was able to snag a solo deal with MCA, where he would release his debut album Freddie Foxxx Is Here (an album I’ve never heard, but would love to track down a copy). The album didn’t do well commercially or critically and would be the first and last album he would release on the label. In the mid-nineties, Freddie would make a bunch of cameo appearances on other artist’s albums and projects and eventually ended up as part of and signing with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit, where he would begin working on his second solo album, Crazy Like A Foxxx, around ’93-’94.

The original conception of Crazy Like A Foxxx was produced by members of the D.I.T.C. crew: Lord Finesse, Showbiz and Buckwild. The Flavor Unit rejected the D.I.T.C. demo and pretty much made Freddie start over. He then scrapped all but five of the original songs and recreated Crazy Like A Foxxx, released the first single, only to have the album shelved.

In 2008, 14 years after it was recorded, Fat Beat Records officially released Crazy Like A Foxxx as a two disc album. The first disc was the Jailhouse version that got shelved and the second disc was the D.I.T.C. demo version that the Flavor Unit rejected. Unfortunately, the cd version comes with no liner notes, so I’m not sure who did what on where, and y’all already know I hate that shit!

I’ve never listened to Crazy Like A Foxxx in its entirety until now. So, join me on this lengthy journey, would you?

D.I.T.C. Demo Version:

Intro – Freddie briefly explains what it is you’re about to listen to.

Call Of The Wild – The album starts with a dry mediocre instrumental (that sounds like something Showbiz would make, although Freddie shouts out the “Funkyman”, which is Lord Finesse’s other alias) that our host uses to talk his thug shit on. Freddie does a solid job on the mic, but the instrumental pulls the song’s momentum way down.

Can’t Break Away – Freddie talks about his rough upbringing, which includes him fighting his dad, becoming a teenage pimp and spending time behind bars. Freddie’s rhymes are compelling, but the empty instrumental does nothing to make his storyline pop.

Click Click – Freddie sounds a little calmer than usual on this one, but he still sounds like he’d tear your head off if you get on his bad side: “I’m not a flashy nigga, cause I like the low shit, for many years I was on some pimpin’ hoes shit, but now I’m on some phat hip-hop show shit, and smackin’ up dumb niggas that don’t know shit”. I guess he had to tone it down a bit to match the smoothly rugged instrumental underneath him. This was dope.

8 Bars To Catch A Body – Freddie uses the same instrumental that Showbiz would use for KRS-One’s “Sound Of Da Police” on this one. Our host uses it to growl more thuggery and threats in the listener’s ear. I’m not sure if Showbiz produced this one, as Fred shouts out Lord Finesse and Buckwild at the beginning of the song, or if this was done before “Sound Of Da Police”, but Foxxx’s rough vocal tone sounds great over the hard backdrop.

Project Mice -Our host shares the tale of three hood dudes (the three blind mice) that get duped by the white man (aka the white rat) into selling dope to their own people. Kudos to Freddie for the well-executed concept, and the mysterious piano loop sounds great behind his dark content.

Rev. Glock –  Freddie plays the role of the crooked pastor, Reverend Glock, who mixes his street thuggery into his church ministry: “I keep a phat black glock in the pulpit, in case the congregation wanna start some bullshit, and man you better watch my choir, cause if you fuck with Rev. Glock, man, them fat bitches will fire, and don’t sleep on the deacon, cause he’ll take a knife and chop your ass up worse than a Puerto Rican…I make the cripple man walk and the blind man see, but what you don’t know is their down with me, some people call it survival, I call it revival, the reverend down the block, he’s my rival, I never really think about God, I think about Rob, robbin’ you for every dime you’re making on you job, yeah, I flirt with the girls singing hymns, after service I’ll be hittin’ them skins”. Of course Freddie’s joking, but as a lot of TV evangelists, megachurch pastors, and some pastors at the local church around your way have proven, a lot of truth is said in jest.

Crazy Like A Foxxx – The title track finds Freddie aggressively flowing over an underwhelming instrumental, but making the most of it. That’s all I got.

Man Destroys Man – If Freddie Foxxx released this song today the LGBTQ (and whatever other letters go with it) community would stone him to death then burn him at the stake. Our host shares a jail tale, during one of his many stays, of a dude named Joe who wants to turn Freddie into his boo thang after he kills his original boo, Michael aka Michelle, for standing up to take a piss instead of squatting like he trained him to do. It’s a wild but entertaining story line that nearly had me in tears laughing, even though our host delivers it with a poker face over a serious semi-dark backdrop.

Pressure On The Brain – Remember Michael Douglas in the movie Falling Down? This song is pretty much Freddie’s hood version of that story line. The instrumental is built around an ill James Brown bass line, which suits our host’s content, perfectly. Some of you might find our host’s content disturbing, but I found it very entertaining.

Who Is The Middle Man – Foxxx takes a break from the darkness that’s dominated most of the album and injects a little comic relief with this one. Over a zany mid-tempo backdrop, Freddie spins three detailed and hi-larious scenarios of cheating women, summing up the moral of the stories in the song’s final bar: “Men and women, please come to your senses, or pay the consequences”. This was good.

Cook A Niggaz Ass – Over a simple but very hard instrumental (I love the sporadic drum breakdowns), Freddie Foxxx and Kool G. Rap beat up, sodomize and murder more people in one rap song than I’ve ever heard. And the shit sounds great. If you take this song serious than you’re a moron, but if you take it for what it’s worth, it’s an entertaining and amusing duet between two powerful emcees.

Original 1994 Version:

Can’t Break Away – The first song of the evening is also the first of five songs from the D.I.T.C. demo version to make the Jailhouse cut. Freddie keeps the same lyrics from the original, adds an awkward skit between the second and third verse and puts a livelier instrumental behind his story, giving it more energy than the O.G. mix.

Crazy Like A Foxxx (Ultra Magnetic Dis) – Freddie completely scraps the original mix of this song and goes after the Ultramagnetic MC’s over a hard instrumental built around a sick bass line borrowed from The Doors (this was released on the B-side of the “So Tough” single). I’m not sure what started the beef between Freddie and Ultramagnetic, but whatever the reason, our host calls out the self-proclaimed “Four Horsemen” and murders them on the song’s final verse, accept for TR Love, who walks away unscathed. It’s not a great dis record, but it’s mildly entertaining.

Interlude – It might have made more sense to place this skit before the previous song, but whatever.

So Tough – This was the only single released from Crazy Like A Foxxx before it got shelved (I still remember the video, which had Freddie screaming the hook while locked down, wearing his prison jump suit). Over S.I.D.’s smooth jazzy piano loop driven backdrop, Freddie talks about the trials that life throws at black men in North America (“Is it coincidence the projects is full of blacks, and when you’re black and try to get ahead they pull you back? We went from African Kings, to Martin Luther King, now they want to make us all Rodney Kings”) and the importance of having the ability to dig deep within yourself to persevere and overcome. Or as he simply puts it at the end of the song: “When the going gets rough, you gotta get tough”. Easy Moe Bee did a remix for this one, which features Queen Latifah chanting on the hook, but it’s not nearly as good as this mix. This one still sounds great 25 years later.

Daddy Boot Knock – It was mildly entertaining to hear Freddie refer to Hammer as “Some fool in some baggy-ass pants tryin’ to dance”, call out either Vanilla Ice or MC Serch (“a crazy white boy tryin’ to act black, with a straight top fade and some black girls standin’ in the back”) and go at the female rap duo, Boss (remember them? Well, you can read my thoughts on their debut album right here) on the second verse (“A lot of bitches on the mic now I’m tryin’ to set it off, I never let some sucker-ass bitch be the boss, I’m sick and tired of dykes on bikes wearin’ boots and Nikes, wanna control the mic, hardcore but never had a fight”). But not entertaining enough to ever listen to it again.

Project Mice – This is another one that survived the D.I.T.C. demo. Freddie keeps the lyrics from the original but replaces the mysterious piano loop with an eerie Hank Crawford loop (that you’ll probably recognize from Kanye’s “Drive Slow”), and it sounds great underneath Freddie’s ghetto fairy tale.

Jail House Rock – Freddy dedicates this one to “All his niggas in the jail house”. I don’t check that box, so…next…

Killa – Freddie invites Benzino aka Ray Dog and Tupac to join him on this cipher joint. Yes. I know what you’re thinking: “How the hell did Benzino sneak his way onto a track with these monster emcees?” My guess is that Big Stretch (rip) was too busy to make the session, and since Zino was just hangin’ around, they let him get on. Needless to say, his verse was unimpressive, but so was Freddie’s and Pac’s. To add insult to injury, the instrumental was pretty trash as well.

Meet Some Skins – Freddie is so cool on this track that he’s got brothers in the project hallways freezing when he walks past them. His coolness matches the smoothness of the instrumental, as our host prepares to get some lovin’ from a project chick who’s “blessed in the chest and the buns in right”. The overly used Isley’s “For The Love Of You” loop on the hook was unnecessary, but this is still a decent listen that made me chuckle a few times.

Interlude – The nineties gave us some great hip-hop music, but also a lot of dumb and useless skits and interludes. Add this one to that list.

Shotty In The Back – Freddy spews more rhymes of pimping, hustling and murder over a beautiful jazzy backdrop, and somehow his violent street rhymes blend well with the peaceful instrumental. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Crazy Like A Foxxx.

Interlude – Another useless skit.

Funk In Yo Brain – The New Jack Swing vibes on the instrumental (that make me want to break into the Running Man) and the out of tune dude singing on the hook, initially made this one hard to swallow. But after a few spins it doesn’t sound that bad, and it helps that Freddie Foxxx stays true to his hardcore rhyming style.

Step – Freddie continues to spew bully raps over a simple and hard backdrop, which also includes a quick jab at former Ultramagnetic affiliate, Tim Dog (rip). Chuck D drops in to add the hook (which includes a Q-Tip vocal snippet from ATCQ’s “Everything Is Fair” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check)) and plays Freddie’s hype man. Decent filler material.

Do What You Gotta Do – This was horrid. Freddie’s story is uninteresting, the instrumental is trash and the male vocalists on the hook and adlibs sound like a bad karaoke version of Jodeci. Next…

Pressure On The Brain – This is another one that was on the original D.I.T.C. demo version. Freddie makes no alterations, using the same verses and the same instrumental as the O.G. mix.

Rev. Glock Skit – An unnecessary skit that sets up the next song…

Rev. Glock – This was recycled from the D.I.T.C. demo. Freddie uses the same lyrics from the O.G. version but puts a livelier instrumental behind it and adds a stronger hook to it.

Crazy Like A Foxxx (Alternate Mix) – This is the fifth and final song of the evening that was carried over from the D.I.T.C. sessions. The unsettling bass line and rough drums placed underneath Freddie’s ferocious flow sound much better than the instrumental used on the D.I.T.C. version.

Amen – After an album chalked full of sins, our host attempts to makes amends for all of his iniquities with this one. Freddie taps into his spiritual side, prescribing to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, denounces material possessions and calls for unity in the black community. Not a bad song, and a decent way to close the album.

Freddie Foxxx is not the greatest lyricist, nor does he have a superb flow. But he is a dope emcee with a ton of charisma, a sick vocal tone and an uncanny ability to hold your attention and entertain. And he probably could beat you and your favorite rapper’s ass at the same time. All of his attributes are on display on Crazy Like A Foxx as he blends gangsta bully raps with occasional jewels and tales of moral. The D.I.T.C. demo version is more cohesive than the Jailhouse mix, as it stays true to Freddie’s hard and dark themes, while the Jailhouse mix has some blatant attempts at crossing over and is cluttered with a bunch of throw away material. Neither version is great, but Freddie manages to make both versions worth listening to.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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Urban Thermo Dynamics – Manifest Destiny (Recorded 1994)

Before Mos Def made the highly respected Black Star album with Talib Kweli, released his classic solo debut, Black On Both Sides, changed his name to Yasiin Bey and moved out of the country, he was a part of a little known hip-hop trio called Urban Thermo Dynamics aka UTD. Along with Mos Def, UTD consisted of his younger brother, DCQ and younger sister, Ces. As a group, UTD released two 12″ singles on Payday Records back in ’94, but for whatever reason, the trio’s full length debut, Manifest Destiny was shelved and never released. Until 2004, when the independent imprint, Illson Media would finally release Manifest Destiny, a decade after it was recorded (which is why I’m sticking this post in with 1994).

I discovered the album a few years back while shopping for music on Amazon and it popped up as a suggested album to buy. Since I’m a Mos Def Stan, I was eager to hear what he sounded like in his early days as an emcee. The album comes with no liner notes, just a two page book with super generic artwork on the cover and an ad for a Medina Green Mixtape on the inside, which kind of sucks, as I like to know who did what for which song (according to some articles I read in cyber land, Showbiz, Diamond D and J-Swift are responsible for most of the production on the album), but whatever.

World Wide – UTD kicks Manifest Destiny off with a sleepy incomplete sounding instrumental that still manages to sound decent. The first voice you hear is that of Ces who spits a verse, followed by Mos Def, and bringing in the rear is DCQ (whose rhyming tone sounds a lot like his big bother’s). It comes to no surprise that Mos Def spits the strongest verse out of the three. Not a great song, but a decent start to the evening.

Manifest Destiny – The title track recycles the same loop Diamond D used on the “Intro” for Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop (bringing some validity to the speculation that Diamond D produced a large portion of the album), which was a great idea considering it sickness and the fact that no one rapped on Diamond’s version. Each of the siblings spit a verse in the same order as the previous song, and once again Mos sounds the sharpest out of the crew. But the motivational hook might be the strongest bars of the entire song.

Hard Core – This was the second 12″ that UTD released. The trio share tales of violent street episodes and warn the listener to stay alert on these mean streets “before your cap gets peeled”. The dense bass line and eerie horn loop serve as the perfect canvas for UTD’s street theme, and the hook is pretty catchy too.

Victory – UTD uses this one to encourage their people to keep pressing forward in spite of all the obstacles life throws at you. Mos rhymes about being an introvert as a child and gives us early samples of the dope harmonies he would perfect on Black On Both Sides, while Ces spits a solid militant verse and DCQ is left to help with adlibs on the hook. The hard drums, triumphant horn loop and thick bass line sound better with each listen.

Luv It Liv It – This was the B-side to the “Hard Core” single. I didn’t care much for the dry backdrop, which might be more so do to the poor mixing…or is the boring drums? Mighty Mos spits some interesting bars during his verse, including a shot aimed at Run DMC for their image change during the Down With The King era (“I can’t believe how low some of my heroes fell, DMC got baldies now- the hell?”), which made me chuckle a little.

You Could Run – Average at best.

Moon In Cancer – Mos gives a few shout outs before the obscure drums drop, punctuated by a bleak dingy sample, that he uses to wax poetic, painting well-crafted visuals about his urban surroundings: “Daylight disappears from sight, sun bleeds on the bricks and brings forth the night, red serenades gives shade to backstreets, heads adjust the EQ for bass in they jeeps, sounds like the drums from a neighboring tribe, absorb the vibe, feels good, close my eyes”. Ces makes a brief appearance and spits a few bars, but this should have just been left as a Mos Def solo record. Which is great to listen to while midnight marauding.

Do It – This one makes for solid filler material.

My Kung-Fu – This was UTD’s debut single, that I vaguely remember hearing late Saturday nights on the local radio station during their hip-hop mix back in the day. Each of the trio boast about their microphone skills over a sweet jazzy backdrop and a catchy hook. This was dope.

Flight To Puerto Rico – Short skit that finds Ces whopping some woman’s ass, and eventually, shooting her for calling her a “nigger”, all over a simple drum beat.

Front Line – This is easily the most conscious and militant song on Manifest Destiny. Mos, Ces and DCQ discuss the mental (and physical) warfare black people face in the wilderness of North America. I love the content, but the instrumental is so dry it would make Ashy Larry blush.

Like That – UTD uses the same melodic loop Marley Marl used for Da Youngstas’ “Backstabbers”, which I absolutely love. UTD does a nice job rockin’ over it, but even if they sucked, the instrumental alone would carrier this song.

My Kung-Fu Remix – UTD replaces the original jazzy backdrop for another one just as jazzy and sweet as the O.G. mix.

Manifest Destiny Remix – I prefer the dark and unearthly feel of the O.G. mix, but the happy feel good vibes on this remix are solid as well.

On Manifest Destiny, Ces and DCQ prove to be decent emcees, while Mos Def shines brighter and sounds sharper than his younger siblings. The album has a few dope songs, some good incomplete ideas, decent filler material, and needs a mean mix, but overall it’s still a decent listen. Manifest Destiny shows UTD’s potential, and I’m curious how they would have matured and gelled had they stayed together as a group.

-Deedub

 

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