King Tee – Act A Fool (November 15, 1988)

I mentioned during my write-up of King Tee’s fourth release, IV Life, that I was so impressed by the album that I would track down physical copies of the rest of his catalog. Well, during the quarantine I was able to track down two more of his albums: his third release, Tha Triflin’ Album (that we’ll be digging into in the very near future), and his debut album, the subject of today’s post, Act A Fool.

Born Roger McBride, King Tee got his start in the game as a deejay after crossing paths with DJ Pooh and DJ Bobcat, who at the time were part of the West Coast-based funk/electro/hip-hop collective, Uncle Jamm’s Army (Ice-T and Egyptian Lover were also a part of this crew). According to King Tee, there were too many deejays in the crew, so he started focusing more on the rhymes than the turntables. Over time he honed his emcees skills and would end up getting a deal with Capitol Records, where he would release his debut album, Act A Fool, at the tail end of 1988.

Act A Fool would begin King Tee’s tradition of including classic whips on his album covers, as this one features our host staggering past a clean white Caddy with shotgun in hand, while a group of sippin’ and chillin’ brothers, casually watch (If you own a digital copy of Act A Fool, you won’t be able to get the full scope of the artwork, as you actually have to open the liner notes booklet to get the full picture and see the classic Caddy in all of its splendor. Another reason I still buy vinyl and CD’s). King Tee would call on his old buddy, DJ Pooh to produce the entirety of the album (except for the two interludes, which are credited to King Tee), and while it wasn’t a commercial success, Act A Fool would produce a couple of singles that made a little noise on the Hip-hop Charts, but more importantly, the streets gave it two thumbs up.

This is my first time listening to Act A Fool, so hopefully it sounds as entertaining as the album’s title and cover artwork.

Act A Fool – Our host starts off the evening sharing a night in the life of King Tee running around in the streets of Compton, and in true King Tee fashion, he keeps it lighthearted and comical. Pooh builds the dope backdrop around a rock-tinged guitar loop that sounds great underneath Tee’s bars.

Ko Rock Stuff – Pooh spits a rare verse, as he opens this one up boasting about how dope his beats are. King Tee concurs and uses the rest of the song to shoutout his homie and brags of his own lyrical dopeness over a funky backdrop. Well done, guys.

The Coolest – King Tee’s in straight emcee mode, spitting well-crafted metaphors and confidently boasting of his lyrical prowess over a funky Pooh produced bop. It sounds like Tee takes a shot at LL during his opening bars (“Fresh like a virgin, calculates like a math whiz, you think you’re bad, Imma show you what bad is”), which makes sense, considering he was down with Ice-T, who openly had beef with Cool James. This record is fire!

Flirt – Our host uses this one to brag about his gift to gab and his ability to have his way with the ladies. Pooh interrupts his partner on the song’s last verse to argue that he’s a bigger ladies’ man than our host, but Tee quickly shuts him down, as he continues to “matter of factly” explain his player techniques. Tee’s rhymes were cool, but Pooh’s bare boned instrumental is too dry to keep me interested.

Baggin’ On Moms – King Tee and his boys use this two-minute interlude to carry on the hood tradition of crackin’ “yo momma” jokes. I chuckle every time I listen to this one. The jokes are funny, but the delivery of the punchlines makes them hi-larious, even when they mess up the punchline.

Bass (Remix) – King Tee uses this one to celebrate the bass line, tell us why he bought his gold chain and an assortment of other randomness. Pooh provides a slick instrumental, complete with smooth horn breaks, while King Tee’s deejay, Keith Cooley gets a chance to cut some shit up on the one’s and two’s. This remix only makes a few minor alterations to the original version. This record was a great choice for a single and it has aged well.

Let’s Dance – More quality bars from our host over a solid mid-tempo Pooh production that’s sole intention is to get the listener to dance. For some reason, King Tee’s flow on this one kind of reminds me of Special Ed (the rapper, not SPED). Wait…did he just threaten to shit on someone’s face?

Guitar Playin’ – The instrumental is simple, but decent, as are King Tee’s rhymes.

Payback’s A Mutha – This one finds King Tee playing fake mad and in faux revenge mode, only to match the James Brown loops the instrumental is built around. Even with our host’s contrived energy, I still enjoyed this one.

Just Clowning – Our host invites MC Breeze (not to be confused with the late MC Breed from Detroit) and Mixmaster Spade to join him, as they take turns spittin’ playful bars over Pooh’s Parliament funk-injected instrumental. I guess they all can’t be great.

I Got A Cold – King Tee ends Act A Fool doing just what the album title suggest: this interlude features our host (or is that Pooh?) beatboxing around his own coughing, sneezing and hacking. And that’s a wrap.

I’ve always scratched my head when people try to put King Tee in the gangsta rap category. Yes, he came up in Compton (which is the home to several gangsta rap artists) and ran with Ice-T (a pioneering gangsta rapper), but there is nothing remotely “gangsta” about King Tee’s music (or at least there’s nothing gangsta about the two King Tee albums I’ve listened to thus far). Clearly, the people who try to place him in that box, paraphrasing Jay-Z, don’t listen to music, they just skim through it (or badly misinterpret album covers). If you actually listen to Act A Fool, you’ll discover that King Tee is a competent emcee who clowns a little but is more focused on showcasing his lyrical prowess than slangin’ and bangin’ on wax. DJ Pooh compliments King Tee’s witty bars and lighthearted content on Act A Fool with dope soul and funk sample-laden production that entertains just as much as King Tee’s rhymes, for the most part. Act A Fool is a quality listen that has aged well and lives up to its title and album cover.

-Deedub

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J.J. Fad – Supersonic (July 5, 1988)

In 1987, Eazy-E and Jerry Heller founded Ruthless Records, which would go on to become the home to Eazy and his groundbreaking group, N.W.A. and all their platinum selling releases, including their seminal full-length debut, Straight Outta Compton. Ruthless would also become the label home to other successful artists, including The D.O.C., Above The Law, Michel’le and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. But before N.W.A. became gangsta rap deity or any of the other acts or artist found success on the label, Ruthless Records’ foundation would be built on two Dr. Dre produced singles: Eazy-E’s “Boyz-n-the-Hood” and J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic”.

J.J. Fad was an all-female group from Rialto, California that formed in the eighties and were first signed to the small independent Dream Team label. The group’s name started out as an acronym derived from the first letter of all the original five members names (Juana, Juanita, Fatima, Anna and Dania), which is also the line-up that recorded the original version of “Supersonic”. The first inception of “Supersonic” made a little noise, locally, but Eazy and Dre believed the song could be a bigger hit and found a way to swoop J.J. Fad and the song from Dream Team. After joining the Ruthless team, J.J. Fad’s line-up would go through some drastic changes, as the five women team would be shaved down to a threesome, with only two of the original members remaining: Juana aka MC J.B. and Dania aka Baby D. They would add newcomer, Sassy C, change the meaning of J.J. Fad to “Just Jammin’, Fresh and Def (yep, super corn), re-record “Supersonic”, making a few changes to the lyrics (mainly the intro where they explain the meaning of the “J.J. Fad” acronym), and Dre would make a few alterations to the original instrumental. The song would become a commercial success and helped propel the single and J.J. Fad’s debut album (which was completely produced by Dr. Dre, with co-production credit going to DJ Yella and Arabian Prince) to RIAA gold certified status, and the single would earn the ladies a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance in 1989, making J.J. Fad the first all-female rap group to be nominated for a Grammy (they would eventually lose in the category to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand”).

J.J. Fad would release a few more singles from Supersonic, but nothing else from the album was able to catch on or experience the same level of success as the lead single. In 1990 they would release their second album, Not Just A Fad, but with Dr. Dre being completely absence from project, the album flopped, and J.J. Fad would ironically, become exactly what the album title denied.

A few months ago, I came across a used vinyl copy of Supersonic at one of the record stores I frequent. I copped it because the price was right (a $2 holla), and because it brought back memories of my twin sister and I as kids, boppin’ to the title track while watching the video, repeatedly, on The Video Jukebox Network (Remember that channel?). I was also curious to hear how the rest of Dr. Dre’s production work would sound. I haven’t listened to the album until now, so let’s jump into it.

Supersonic – J.J. Fad kicks off the album with the title track and gold selling lead single that would earn the trio a Grammy nod. It would also earn the ladies a slot at number 76 on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders from the 80’s. Dre and company hook up a 808 drum laden techno-esque backdrop (which was definitely influenced by Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”, as Sugga and Spice not so kindly suggested on their J.J. Fad diss track, “That’s Funky”; more on that song in a bit.) that the ladies use to rap about supersonic, and based on their content, I’m convinced they have no idea what the word really means. Regardless of the nonsensical rhymes, the hook is catchy, the simple backdrop is effective, and still sounds solid today.

Way Out – This was the second single released from Supersonic. Dre and ’em borrow a loop from The Monkees and The Flintstones (yep, you read that right) to create a backdrop that reeks of Beach Boy vibes. The ladies use the poppy instrumental to spit the simplest battle rhymes in the most elementary cadence hip-hop has ever seen. I’m being dramatic, but you get my drift. From beginning to end, top to bottom, this was awful.

Blame It On The Muzick – Our hostesses are ready to party on this one, and they attempt to get the listeners into dance mode as well. Dre accommodates the ladies with a cheesy sounding Casio keyboard backdrop that left me questioning which sounded worst: J.J. Fad or Dre & Co.’s beat? Side note: The little breakdown when Dre convinces and teaches the “freak in the biker shorts” to dance is hi-larious to me for some reason.

In The Mix – This one picks up where the previous song left off at: more cheesy Casio keyboard dance music and J.J. Fad spewing corny rhymes over it. Warning: If you’re listening to this song through your headphones/earbuds, towards the midway point of the song, a reoccurring clash that sounds like a gunshot is brought in, and it scared the shit out of me. Hopefully, I went through that, so you won’t have to go through that.

Eenie Meenie Beats – I’m not sure what the hell this song title means, but this is pretty much an instrumental rehash of “Supersonic”. If you’re listening to Supersonic on vinyl, this concludes the “Pop Side”.

My Dope Intro – The “Hip-Hop Side” begins with a loop that sounds like J.J. Fad is getting ready to square dance, but things quickly change when they instruct DJ Train to drop “one of those old school beats”, to which he response by dropping an instrumental built around a few loops from Freedom’s “Get Up And Dance” (I love the horn breaks on that record). J.J. Fad uses the funky backdrop to boast and brag of their dopeness, and while they come nowhere close to sounding great, their rhymes sounds way better than anything they spit on the “Pop Side”. I found it kind of strange to name the first song on side two of your album “My Dope Intro”, but regardless of the generic misplaced song title, this was pretty dope (no pun intended).

Let’s Get Hyped – The previous song bleeds right into this one, as our hostesses continue to spew much improved battle bars, except for Baby D, who spits some embarrassingly bad lines during her verse. Dre provides a simple, sleek and slick instrumental to make this one moderately enjoyable.

Now Really – J.J. Fad dedicates this diss record to the female rap duo, Sugga and Spice. As the story goes, J.J. Fad and Sugga and Spice had beef dating back to the days when they were labelmates on the small independent label, Dream Team. I’m not sure what sparked the beef (if you know, please weigh in in the comments), but whatever the reason, it caused Sugga and Spice to fire two diss tracks at J.J. Fad: “That’s Funky” and “Yes We Can”. Our hostesses would respond with this record, and they do manage to land a few decent blows, but it pales in comparison to the body shots Sugga and Spice connected with on “That’s Funky”.

Time Tah Get Stupid – This one gets off to a strange start, as our hostesses revamp a portion of “Little Drummer Boy” for the song’s intro. Dre quickly steers the ship back in the right direction by serving the lady trio a couple of simple, but smooth, 808 beats to rap over. They don’t do much with them, but at least he did his part.

Is It Love – The final song of the evening finds each of the ladies grappling and questioning the feelings they have for the men in their lives; and ironically, with all their questioning, they still managed to forget to put a question mark at the end of the song title. Dre and company, hook up a smooth groove to back the ladies (it kind of reminds me of his work on his former love interest and baby mama, Michel’le’s “Nicety” record), and this ends up being one of the strongest songs on the album.

Wisely, J.J. Fad starts the album out with the title track, which is really the sole reason the album even exists. Unfortunately, after that the rest of the first half of Supersonic is filled with forgettable trash. The “Hip-Hop Side” fairs slightly better, as a few of Dre’s instrumentals sound pretty decent. But ultimately, it’s J.J. Fad’s limited skills (or lack of) that leaves Supersonic sounding not that super, sonically.

-Deedub

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DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Rock The House (April 7, 1987)

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince are not new to Timeisillmatic, as I’ve reviewed all their group albums, except for their debut, Rock The House, only because I didn’t own a copy. I know I could easily stream the album on a DSP, but I’m a collector and the whole premise of this blog is to chronologically review every physical album that I own. A few months ago, while digging through the crates at one of my spots, I came across a used cd copy of Rock The House, for three bucks. Of course, a brother had to cop it; not only to complete my JJ&FP collection, but also so I could walk through it with all of you fine folks.

Rock The House was originally released on the small independent Philly-based label, Word Up Records, founded by Dana Goodman, who is credited with producing most of the album. With Dana’s help, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (who I am resisting the urge to refer to by his real name, Will Smith. I will try to only refer to him as FP for the rest of this write-up) would eventually sign a deal with Jive/RCA and re-released Rock The House with a different album cover and a slightly altered tracklist. Powered by the comical lead single (“Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble”), Rock The House would go one to earn the West Philly duo a gold plaque, but their satire brand of hip-hop left real heads questioning Jeff and FP’s street cred. That same questioning would follow the duo throughout their run together.

Beside the debut single, none of the songs on the tracklist look familiar, so Rock The House will pretty much be a new experience for me. So, without further ado…

Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble (1988 Extended Remix) – Our hosts kick off the show with a zany instrumental built around a couple of loops taken from the I Dream Of Jeannie theme song that Will, I mean, FP, uses to comically share three different experiences with three different women that all end, terribly (side note: This remix is only on the 1988 Jive pressing of Rock The House. The instrumental on the original mix (which is on the Word Up pressing and the original Jive pressing) is slightly different, and it only has two verses that are a bit more ratchet than the cleaned-up verses FP spits on this remix. This remix also ends with our hosts referencing a couple of songs from their sophomore album (“Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “A Nightmare On My Street”), which left me confused, until I realized the ’88 pressing that I bought was released after He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper came out). The instrumental wasn’t great, but its animated feel suits FP’s content, perfectly and this ends up being an entertaining opening track that also doubles as the duo’s debut single.

Just One Of Those Days – FP picks up where he left off at on the previous song, as he shares more adventures of his misfortune. This time around he spins two tales of a bad day that just continues to get worse. Dana Goodman builds the backdrop around a simple drum beat and an interpolation of Taco’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, with mediocre results. Once again, FP entertains with his comical content, but Dana’s instrumental is a hard one to swallow.

Rock The House – The title track finds FP rhyming about the unofficial third member of the group, The Human LinnDrum, Ready Rock C, live at Union Square in New York City. Ready Rock provides the beatbox for FP’s rhymes, and maintains his beatbox throughout the song, all while ending FP’s bars, adding scratches to his own beat, reversing his beat, humming the theme song to Sandford And Son, and then he puts an ill “underwater” effect on it. Shit, I was definitely impressed.

Taking It To The Top – Over a basic bare bones drum beat, FP calls out overly wordy emcees, pledges allegiance to his crew, gives a short motivational speech and of course, boasts of he and his crew’s greatness, while Jeff tries his best to make the music more appealing with his scratching. Needless to say, he fails.

The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff – This time around, FP uses his rhymes to pay homage to his DJ, and then leaves room for Jeff to showcase why he’s considered one of the greatest turntablists of all-time, as he cuts, scratches and impressively, makes the record burp and chirp. This shit was dope.

Just Rockin’ – FP does his best LL Cool J impersonation, circa Radio era, on this one, and we quickly find out that’s not his lane. This was embarrassingly bad (no pun intended).

Guys Ain’t Nothing But Trouble – Our hosts revisit the theme and the instrumental from the opening track, as they invite female emcee, Ice Cream Tee, to rhyme and provide a rebuttal to their opening argument. Ice Cream Tee’s story gets a little uncomfortable, as she makes light of being sexually assaulted and kidnapped by some pimp, who wants to turn her out. This song pales in comparison to the original, as Ice Cream Tee is not nearly as charismatic as FP, which makes it difficult to keep the listener engaged by her bars, and the fake British Dana Dane accent she raps in, quickly becomes annoying.

A Touch Of Jazz – Jeff plays a bunch of slick loops and adds his precise cuts to them on this extend instrumental interlude that makes for a refreshing break away from all the minimalistic drum beats we’ve heard for most of the evening. This song title would go on to be the name of Jeff’s production company as well as his Philly based studio.

Don’t Even Try It – FP and Jeff dedicate this one to all the haters who didn’t believe in the duo’s dream of making it in the music business until they saw it finally materialize and caught a bad case of the vapors (shoutout to Biz Markie). Jeff steps from behind the turntables and joins FP on the mic to spit a verse about some of his doubters turned believers, as well. This is far from great, but I enjoyed the “PG-13, fuck you” message from our hosts.

Special Announcement – Don’t let the title fool you. This is nothing more than FP and Dana Goodman giving a few shoutouts, while Jeff scratches behind them.

Like the rest of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s discography, Rock The House is hit and miss all the way through. FP is at his best when he’s in comical self-depreciation mode or rapping praises to his crew, but when he gets boastful or tries to spit battle raps, his limited emcee abilities are exposed for the whole world to see. Jeff gets a few opportunities to showcase his skills on the one’s and two’s, and those moments are enjoyable, but I’m sure he’s more entertaining at a live show. The biggest issue I have with Rock The House is the primitive production, as the simplistic drum beats start to sound repetitive by the midway point of the album, making an old man like myself lose interest fairly quickly. Rock The House has a few memorable moments, but as a whole, it hasn’t aged-well.

-Deedub

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Whodini – Whodini (October 13, 1983)

Greetings! I’ve finally worked my way through 1995. Before I jump into ’96, I’ll be doing a little house cleaning, so the next handful of posts will be new additions to my collection (or albums that somehow got overlooked on my spreadsheet) that came out before ’96. Thanks for reading!

The first and last time we checked in with Whodini was with their third release, Back In Black, an album that I felt started out strong, but begin to waiver towards the middle. Since that write-up, I’ve added a few more Whodini albums to my collection, including a vinyl copy of their self-titled debut, which will discuss in detail today.

The entirety of Whodini was recorded in Europe (split between Battery Studios in London and Can Studios in Weilerswist, Germany), as Ecstasy and Jalil (Grandmaster Dee wouldn’t join the group until the Back In Black album) would call on a host of European producers to craft the album’s sound: Conny Plank (rip), Thomas Dolby, Roy Carter (of the 70’s/80’s r&b group Heatwave) and the production team with an interesting alias, Willesden Dodgers, comprised of Nigel Green, Peter Q. Harris and Richard Joh Smith. The album wasn’t a huge commercial success, and it wouldn’t earn any RIAA certifications, but it would set the stage for Whodini’s next two albums, Escape and Back In Black, which would both earn gold plaques.

I’ve never listened to Whodini before today and none of the songs on the tracklist look familiar (my introduction to Whodini was with “Friends” and “Freaks Come Out At Night”), so let’s see how this one plays out.

Rest in peace to John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, who passed away at the end of 2020. May you continue to rest easy.

The Haunted House Of Rock – Whodini opens the album with what would also be their second single. Ecstasy and Jalil were obviously influenced by MJ’s “Thriller”, as they use this one to discuss a creepy party at a haunted house that some of your favorite horror characters show up to (i.e. The creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Addams Family), and this spooky party is deejayed by no other than Wolfman Jack (you youngins might need to do your Googles on him). I’m curious on why they didn’t name this “The Haunted House Of Hip-Hop”, but regardless, Whodini does a solid job of keeping the listener engaged with the details of the party, and sonically, the instrumentation sounds way ahead of its time. This is a great song to throw into your Halloween mix.

Nasty Lady – Whodini uses this one to shoutout a nasty chick they met at a club and rocked their worlds, leaving them so whipped that they had to write a song about it. You wanna hear it? Here it goes. There aren’t really any lyrics to this song, just Ecstasy repeating the same refrain over a simple drum beat for nearly six minutes. No need to listen to this one more than once.

Underground – Coming in with a runtime of just under six minutes, this is pretty much an extended interlude that Whodini dedicates to the underground hip-hop scene. There’s a super dope break sprinkled throughout the instrumental, but other than that there’s not much to see here.

It’s All In Mr Magic’s Wand – This is the instrumental version of the next song…

Magic’s Wand – Whodini uses this one to pay homage to the late pioneering Bronx born hip-hop radio deejay, Mr. Magic (you can do your Googles on him as well). Once again, the production sounds way more advanced and layered than a lot of the instrumentals we were hearing from other hip-hop acts around this time (although, one could argue that the instrumental is more r&b than hip-hop). I appreciated the song’s sentiment and enjoyed the smooth stylings of Thomas Dolby instrumental.

Yours For A Night – Roy Carter and the Willesden Dodgers hook up a chill r&b flavored backdrop that Ecstasy and Jalil use to ask the ladies of their lives for a little quality time, while Thomas Jerome Pearse (who sounds a lot like former Today lead man, Big Bub) drops by and sings the hook. This makes for a cool little bop.

Rap Machine – Jalil creates a rap machine that allegedly has the ability to rap for eternity, never running out of breath or fresh rhymes. Ecstasy uses his verses to express his disdain for Jalil’s invention and sets out to proof that he’s superior to the rhyming apparatus, and actually ends the song battling the rap machine. Yes. It sounds just as corny as it reads. The synthy instrumentation was kind of cheesy, but I’ll shoot Conny Plank some bail, as he was obviously trying to create a robotic feel to match the song’s content. Ecstasy and Jalil’s concept was poorly executed, but kudos for the original idea.

The Haunted House Of Rock (Vocoder Version) – Whodini brings back the instrumental from the original mix and replaces the verses with a rambling vocoder voice that hi-lariously reminds the listen: “If you don’t want to party take your dead ass home”. And that concludes Whodini.

As I mentioned earlier in this write-up, most of the instrumentation on Whodini sounds more musical and layered than a lot of Whodini’s contemporaries of that era. Neither Ecstasy or Jalil are superb lyricists, but both are competent emcees, and they bring original ideas that sound refreshing, even if the execution of those ideas isn’t the greatest. With only eight tracks, two of them being instrumentals of other songs on the album (“It’s All In Mr Magic’s Wand” and “The Haunted House Of Rock (Vocoder Version)”), and two more acting as extended interludes (“Nasty Lady” and “Underground”), Whodini plays more like an EP than a full-length album. But if you subtract the fluff, the four remaining songs are pretty enjoyable, and have aged fairly well over the past thirty-five plus years.

-Deedub

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Best And Worst Of 1995

Another year under the belt, which means it’s time for my annual Best and Worst awards, where I pay respect, and disrespect, to some of the year’s standout moments. Check it out and feel free to chop it up with me in the comments.

Worst Moniker: Elo The Cosmic Eye (“What Goes On Pt. 7” from Do You Want More?!!!??!) – It sounds like he tried too hard to come up with something that sounded deep, but instead it just ended up sounding downright corny.

Honorable Mentions: Microphone Nut (“Da Graveyard” from Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous) and Keith Nut (“Watch Out” from Jealous Ones Envy) – Anyone who has “Nut” in their alias is worthy of a nomination for this not so coveted award.

Worst Song Title: “Fed Up Wit The Bullshit” (Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous) – Sometimes it’s cool to be blunt and straight to the point, but on other occasions (like when titling your songs) it’s nice to use a little creativity. On the bright side: Lifestylez is two for two with nominations so far.

Worst Album Title: Da Miilkrate (Miilkbone) – That shit just sounds corny. Plus, I can’t overlook the fact that he used the N-word two too many times.

Worst Album Artwork: Aglio E Olio (Beastie Boys) – It looks like something my six-year-old son would draw. Scratch that, my son would draw circles around that hot mess.

Honorable Mentions: Destination Unknown (1 Way) – The picture quality, the elementary letter styling of the group name and album title, plus the matching outfits, all screams extreme corn. I Wish (Skee-Lo) – If Facebook was around in ’95, this is what some of ya’ll’s profile pics would look like. Pass It On (Mike E) – Why is this negro voguing with a pastel background?

Worst Song: “We Rule” (Special Ed) – DJ Akshun serves Special Ed, arguably, the worst instrumental in the history of hip-hop, and I’m not exaggerating. If the instrumental by itself wasn’t bad enough, Ed almost lulls the listener to sleep when he adds his new-found constipated-boring flow.

Honorable Mentions: “Blowin’ Up The Spot” (Ill Will -from the D&D Project) – I can’t believe KRS-One co-signed for this hot garbage. “Aint Nothin’ But The Word” (Mike E – Pass It On) – This was godawful…no pun intended. “Posers” (1 Way – Destination Unknown) – If this was released in ’88 instead of 95, it might work. On second thought…no it wouldn’t.

Worst Album: Destination Unknown (1 Way) – The issue I pointed out on “Posers” in the previous category ends up plaguing most of the album as well.

Honorable Mentions: Pass It On (Mike E) – A prime example of why most people think Christian hip-hop is corny. Revelations (Special Ed) – Ed’s oddball flow paired with the mediocre music makes for a very underwhelming listen. Aglio E Olio (Beastie Boys) – The only reason this one didn’t win in this category is because it wasn’t trying to be a hip-hop album.

Best Moniker: Shorty Shit Stain (raps on ODB’s “Proteck Ya Neck II” from Return To The 36 Chambers) – The shits hilarious (no pun intended) and ill at the same time; and it just slides off the tongue easy like drinking a gallon of Crisco.

Honorable Mentions: Kandi Kane (made a few cameos in ’95: Naughty By Nature’s “Connections” and Miilkbone’s posse joint “Set It Off”) and Evocalist (one half of The B.U.M.S.) – two ill alias from emcees with skills that match.

Best Song Title: “Verbal Intercourse” (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…) – Collectively, Wu-Tang may have given us the best song titles in hip-hop history, but this one might be the greatest. By the way, the song ends up being just as great.

Honorable Mentions: “Death Of A Demo (Nine Livez). “Tricycles And Kittens” (Subliminal Simulation) – Who would have thought that two random nouns connected by arguably the most popular conjunction in the English language would sound so dope together? “Unfuckwittable” (Last Chance, No Breaks) – Too bad Jamal’s album wasn’t as dope as this song title was.

Best Album Artwork: Return Of The 36 Chambers – To use your Welfare ID card for your album cover (which would later get ODB in trouble with the authorities) during the beginning stages of the bling and floss era, was brave, hi-larious and clever, all at the same time.

Honorable Mentions: Do You Want More?!!!??! – The dark blue filter placed over Black Thought, Questlove and Malik B’s (rip) pic is super slick and a great representation of what the album would sound like. Sittin’ On Chrome and III: Temples Of Boom – I’m a sucka for cartoon/ drawing style album covers.

Best Album Title: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…– That shit just sounds hard. Period.

Honorable Mentions: Poverty’s Paradise, Liquid Swords, Mental Releases.

Best Song: “Shook Ones PTII” – Havoc’s leery bass line clashes with a celestial loop, while he and Prodigy (rip) spew some of the most vividly frigid bars hip-hop has ever given us. Easily in my Top Ten GOAT hip-hop songs.

Honorable Mentions: “Dear Mama”- If you can’t feel Pac’s emotion on hip-hop’s greatest mama tribute, you might not have a pulse. “Born To Roll” – Remember that time when Masta Ace remixed “Jeep Ass Niguh” and turned it into a disgusting banger that would become his biggest crossover hit? “Last Dayz” – Onyx spews dim and hopeless bars over one of the darkest and greatest hip-hop beats of all time; all punctuated by a brilliant bone-chilling closing verse from Sticky Fingaz. “I Wish” – Don’t act like you weren’t fuckin’ with the song that made Skee-Lo a one hit wonder.

Sleeper Album: Nine Livez – This album pairs a ferocious emcee (with arguably the greatest rap voice of all-time) with phenomenal production, but through the years, it has been grossly overlooked. Is it because of that Froggy Frog thing he did?

Honorable Mentions: All We Got Iz Us – This masterwork of darkness has never gotten nearly enough credit for its greatness. Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme – The B.U.M.S give us a nice blend of shit talk and mature content over a batch of ear pleasing jazz and soul-driven instrumentals.

Best Album: The Infamous – Prodigy and Havoc spew cold and callous, and sometimes, introspective bars over damn near flawless production that results in one of the greatest albums in the history of hip-hop. Thug music never sounded so beautiful.

Honorable Mentions: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…– Rae and Ghost’s chemistry is undeniable on “The Purple Tape”, and Rza’s dusty boom-bap beats suit the duo, beautifully. Dah Shinin’ – Da Beatminerz master their brand of melodically muddy production that they introduced us to on Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, and Steele and Tek sound right at home rhyming over it. Do You Want More?!!!??! – The live jazzy hip-hop instrumentation The Roots introduced us to on Organix, fully culminates on their sophomore effort, while Black Thought continues to blossom into the chiseled beastly emcee that he is today.

That concludes the Best & Worst of 1995. Thank you for going on this journey with me, and I hope you stick with me as I begin to re-walk through 1996, very soon.

-Deedub

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Tha Alkaholiks – Coast II Coast (February 28, 1995)

Somehow, this one slipped through the cracks or, cells, of my spreadsheet, but at least I caught it while still reviewing 1995.

Under the mentorship of the underappreciated West Coast pioneer, King Tee, Tha Alkaholiks were able to secure a deal with Loud/RCA and released their debut album, 21 & Over, in August of 1993. The album wasn’t a huge commercial success, but the trio’s frat boy energy paired with witty punchlines and lighthearted content, helped the three-man crew build a solid core fan base and earn respect from real heads as well. Tha Liks would return in ’95 to build on the first album’s momentum with the release of their sophomore effort, Coast II Coast.

Just as they did on 21 & Over, Tha Liks would put the production keys for Coast II Coast in the hands of resident group DJ, E-Swift, as he is credited with producing all but three of the album’s eleven tracks. Coast II Coast would produce two singles that made a little noise and helped the album peak at 50 on the Billboard Top 200 and 12 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts. But more importantly, it received positive reception from the critics and fans.

I enjoyed Tha Liks comical approach to 21 & Over, but overall, the production was a bit underwhelming. Let’s see if our drunken bredrin were able to correct their shortcomings on their second go round.

WLIX – The album starts with audio of Tha Liks performing at a live show, followed by a short snippet of liquor being poured into a cup. Then you hear a voice welcoming you to the faux radio station, WLIX, where J-Ro and Tash are joined by two-thirds of the Lootpack (Wildchild and Madlib) and Declaime (who you may also know as Dudley Perkins) for this cipher session. Madlib (with a co-credit going to Tha Liks, which more than likely is just for the three interludes leading up to the actual song) concocts a dark and mysterious backdrop for everyone to spit freestyle bars that sound like they were ran through some type of vocal distortion filter. This isn’t a great song, and it doesn’t have enough energy to open an album with, but it’s a vast improvement from the last time we heard Lootpack on the hot garbage cipher joint “Turn Tha Party Out” from 21 & Over.

Read My Lips – Now this would have been more fitting for an opening track. E-Swift hooks up a dope mid-tempo bop that Tash and J-Ro use to tag team the mic, as they get loose and spew their witty punchlines all over it.

Let It Out – Diamond D hooks up a mysterious banger, dripping with James Bond vibes (the loop actually comes from a joint off the Enter The Dragon Soundtrack), while Tash and J-Ro verbally assault the shit out of it (J-Ro’s bar: “I get ’em when I send ’em, the Alkaholik venom, I’ll fold your clothes with your body still in em'” makes me laugh every time I listen to this song). E-Swift was also inspired by Diamond’s fiery backdrop and gets off a solid verse to close this one out. This is easily the best song on Coast II Coast.

21 And Under – Not to be confused with the title of their debut album, 21 & Over: Tash and E-Swift spin two animated tales that both revolve around drinking, of course. Neither story was that interesting, but E-Swift’s instrumental (that sounds too serious for the song’s content) was dope and makes for great midnight marauding music. This song is followed by hard drums and a soulful loop provided for you to spit a few freestyle bars to if you’d like.

All The Way Live – King Tee and Q-Tip join Tha Liks on this one (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), as the four emcees come off like lyrical gladiators vying for control of the imaginary throne (well, at least Tash, Tip and J-Ro do; but in King Tee’s defense, he only gets like 8 bars tacked on at the very end of the song) over a decent E-Swift instrumental. Tip and Tash spit solid verses, but in my opinion, J-Ro walks away with the crown. Do you agree or disagree? Hit me in the comments.

Hit And Run – Xzibit drops in to join J-Ro and E-Swift, as the threesome take turns sharing hoe tales about chicks they hit and dipped on over a sexy piano loop-driven instrumental. Tash either had to take a bathroom break, had a hangover or just didn’t want to incriminate himself with all this misogyny, as he’s absence from this affair. It’s not a great song, but it makes for decent filler material if you don’t take the fellas content too serious. The song is followed by a short dark instrumental interlude that sounds a lot like something Madlib would hook up, and even though he’s not credited for it, I’d be willing to bet that he did.

DAAAM! – Over a decent backdrop driven by a thick bass line, Tha Liks do what they do best: boast and clown and break things up with a call and response style hook. I was never crazy about this one back in the day, but it’s a cool little bop that makes sense as the lead single for Coast II Coast.

2014 – J-Ro gets the only solo joint on the album with this one. Over a super hard instrumental, J spits a two-verse story about being the sole survivor on earth after the apocalypse takes place. At least that’s what he initially thinks, until he runs into a little boy named Rakim, who leads him to an underground hip-hop community (that the two must, hi-lariousy, run “ten miles across the sand” to get to), where he’s reunited with Tash and E-Swift. Hey, wait a minute…J-Ro’s whole plot is starting to sound a lot like Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (yes, the novel came decades before Will Smith and ’em made it into a movie). Regardless of J-Ro’s plagiarism, I enjoyed this one.

Bottom Up – King Tee joins Tash (the more I listen to Tash rap, the more he sounds like the lost third member of Das EFX post diggity era) and J-Ro on this one, as each of the emcees gets off a solid verse over E-Swift’s mediocre instrumental. Did J-Ro take a shot at Jeru The Damaja at the end of his verse? As much as I love J-Ro as an emcee, he wouldn’t stand a chance going up against Jeru.

Flashback – J-Ro, Xzibit, Lil Tone and Devastating E, collectively known as The Baby Bubbas, pay homage or poking fun (probably a little bit of both) at the old school, circa Sugar Hill Gang era. This is a fun playful track that’ll make you chuckle at least a few times. The song is followed by an interlude that features a demonic voice explaining the meaning of the group’s name (in a roundabout way) and introducing the next song…

The Next Level – This was the second single from Coast II Coast. Diamond D joins our hosts for the final song of the evening, as he not only produces the track, but also spits a verse along with J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift. Diamond D (who proved he’s one of the better rhyming producers on Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop) gets off a slick verse, but J-Ro spits one of the greatest punchlines in hip-hop history: “You’s a nigga everybody diss cause you can’t bust this, you got a bad name like Dick Butkus”. Diamond D’s zany bass line kind of contradicts the dark feel his somber loop provides, but this was still a solid joint to close out Coast II Coast with.

On Coast II Coast, Tha Liks pick up where they left off at on their debut, mixing witty punchlines with playful themes, throughout. Tha Liks won’t give you much if you’re looking for substance, but Tash and J-Ro can really rap (no disrespect to E-Swift, but he’s definitely more of a producer than an emcee) and are able to entertain and hold your attention, even though their content never reaches beyond fun freestyles. The production on Coast II Coast sounds a lot more pleasing to the ear than their first trip, as E-Swift provides a much more consistent batch of backdrops for he and his comrades to rhyme over (and it doesn’t hurt that Diamond D drops off a couple of goodies too). Coast II Coast is nowhere near classic status, but it’s a solid project from a blue collar group that found their lane and stayed in it until they arrive at their exit and slowly went down the off ramp.

-Deedub

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LPG – The Earth Worm (1995)

I promised in the previous post that we would be talking more about the California-based rap duo LPG, comprised of cousins, Dax and Jurny Big, who were also a part of the larger underground west coast collective, Tunnel Rats (a crew that may not be well-known to the masses, but those who know, know how dope they were during their peak years in the mid-nineties thru the early 2000’s). The name LPG was originally an acronym for “Lord’s Personal Gangsters”, but later they wisely changed the meaning to “Living Proof of Grace”. LPG made their official debut on Freedom Of Soul’s “SonShyne”, which was easily the best track on the album, and while they turned in a solid performance, it was the bangin’ instrumental that shined (no pun intended) the brightest. But fret not, the duo would get a chance to prove how dope they really were with the release of their debut album, The Earth Worm, released sometime during 1995 (sorry, I couldn’t find an official release date).

The album title and concept are loosely built around Psalm 22:6 that reads: “I am a worm, not a man, despised by men hated by all” and LPG comparing themselves, specifically, to the earthworm, as servants of Christ (more on that in a bit). Jurny and Dax would call on their homie, Peace 586 (one-half of Freedom of Soul) to produce most of the album, having a hand in all but one of the album’s eleven tracks.

I’d be willing to bet that no more than five of you have ever heard of LPG before this post, and out of those five, no more than three have ever heard an LPG song. And I’d cut off my ear like Peter did Malchus’ if any of you bought and own The Earth Worm. And if you don’t know who Peter and Malchus are, you need to get into your bible…after you read this post.

A Place Called Hip-Hop – The album opens with an unidentified gravelly male voice (who makes several cameos throughout The Earth Worm…I’ll refer to him as Rev. Worm from here on out) paraphrasing Psalm 22:6. Then an ill rock guitar loop (that L.E.S. would also later use for Nas’ “Suspect” record) placed over a rough head nod-inducing drum beat drops, and our hosts use it to cleverly and vividly describe the imaginary land called Hip-Hop: “The place to be, an area where freestyle dominates, then creates a massive style change that will rearrange your mind state; where break downs don’t ever need to be fixed, and stolen pieces thrown together does not mean you’re in the mix, you wonder how it is to be, simultaneously, interacting with the boom bap and rap constantly, Well, I personally had no choice but to come out fat, cause every time I turn around I collect a pound, cause in this place they have a true understanding of hip-hop, so everyone is able to pick up on what I drop”. This was a brilliant way to start off the evening.

Hour Glass – This one starts with Rev. Worm sharing a short sermon/spoken word piece about the value of time and the dangers of wasting it. Then Peace unleashes a laidback instrumental, oozing with soothing vibes placed over clumsy drums (Boogie is credited for the live bass play on the track), as our hosts continue to delve into the subject matter that the good Reverend opened with. A portion of the hook is way too wordy, and there is a lot of content to unpack on this one (maybe too much), but their bars kept me engaged and I enjoyed the lovely instrumentation.

Worst Enemy Greatest Allie – LPG asks and answers the question posed in the song’s title and hook and use their verses to do a little boasting, but ultimately remind the listener that you are the driving force that will determine your destiny, in this life and the one to come. Peace’s instrumental compliments LPG’s well thought out and executed plan, as he perfectly meshes boom-bap drums with a few beautifully serene loops that result in an addicting backdrop and a masterpiece of a song.

Earthworm – Rev. Worm’s back for the intro to this title track; this time sharing the similarities between the characteristics of the earthworm and LPG. Then the tantalizing jazzy vibes of Sup’s instrumental drop and our hosts begin talkin’ their sanctified shit, calling out lesser emcees and the church for all their shortcomings. They also sprinkle a few gems and shoutout their Lord and Savior, intermittently: “Cause all I know is boom bap, Christ loved hip-hop and real rap, but that don’t sell, so emcees like me are not accepted, I’m forced to dwell in the underground where the rest of this industry’s neglected”. Before listening to this song, I had no idea that earthworms don’t have eyes. Who said that hip-hop couldn’t be educational?

Too Late – Over laidback jazzy vibes, Dax and Jurny get vulnerable, as they discuss their struggles to find true happiness and live lives pleasing to God before they run out of time. The petty in me happened to notice that “Too” in the song title is spelled correctly on the liner notes, but then spelled as “To” on the back of the jewel case, which was clearly unintentional. Regardless of this minor syntax error, I enjoyed the song.

Judge Not – Rev Worm makes another appearance at the beginning of this song that is built around the Bible verse, Matthew 7:1 and a dope KRS-One vocal snippet snatched from Edutainment’s “Blackman In Effect”. Pigeon John (whose name some of you may remember from his cameo on FOS’ “Not This Record” from the previous post) stops by to join LPG in calling out their haters and warning them of the dangers that come with passing judgement on others, even though they kind of do just that while making their point. I like the content, the hook is fresh and Peace’s slick and at times, quirky instrumental was enjoyable.

Deafening Silence – LPG invites a few of their Tunnel Rats bredrin: Souljourn, Ajax, Raphi and Redbones to join them one this cipher session dedicated to the sweet sound of deafening silence that we could all use from time to time to clear our minds and hear from God. Speaking of sweet sounds, Peace’s warm melodious soundscape was a welcoming one and breathes life into this song. Side note: Like “Too Late”, “Deafening” is spelled incorrectly on the back of the jewel case (Deafining) and correctly on the insert, but after listening to the previous song I’ve learned not to judge others for their mistakes. Yep, I’m still petty.

Slaughter – For the second time on The Earth Worm, Ralphi joins LPG, as the three emcees wage war against wack emcees over a ruggedly melodic backdrop. The rhymes were decent, but I’m absolutely in love with Peace’s instrumental. This song is followed by a quick Rev. Worm interlude to set up the next song.

Great To Be Dead -At first take, the song title and the hook (that has a little kid repeating the song title) sounds a bit morbid but fear not. The death that LPG is referring to is a figurative one that finds them attempting to die to their flesh so Christ can reign inside them: “The things that I was choosing, was the reason I was losing, so when the voice said suicide, my only choice was to abide, I know that it seems sick to self-inflict death, but dying to myself was the only way that I could live”. I didn’t like the instrumental years ago when I listened to this song, but over time the naked snare and stripped-down sound has grown on me and it actually works well behind LPG’s intricate poetical explanation of suicide.

Then Came Dawn – LPG (and their TR bredrin, Raphi, who makes his third and final cameo of the evening) uses this one to encourage the listener to keep pushing through when life gets tough and things look dark, because as Psalms 30:5 reminds us: Joy comes in the morning…and the church said, amen. Fittingly, Peace’s moody backdrop sounds like a cloudy overcast with the sun peeking through, reinforcing our hosts’ message.

I Wonder – I wonder why LPG didn’t just keep The Earth Worm at a nice even ten tracks and leave this drab mess of a song on the cutting room floor.

There are Christian rappers and rappers who happen to be Christian, and LPG is definitely the latter. Jurny Big and Dax make it clear on The Earth Worm that for them, hip-hop is a “tool they use to share relationship with Christ”, but don’t get it twisted, these dudes can really spit. Throughout their debut album the duo share their beliefs (without sounding preachy; a feat a lot of their past and future Christian contemporaries would fail at) and stay true to the secular hip-hop streets that raised them, without disgracing their savior’s name. But more importantly, their lyrical abilities are on point and on full display. Complimenting LPG’s strong performance is Peace 586’s production, as he returns to the boards after abandoning them for Freedom Of Soul’s last album, and strings together a cohesive blend of jazzy, soulful boom bap soundscapes that are sure to bless your ears. There are a few songs on The Earth Worm that wouldn’t have been missed had LPG decided to leave them off the album, and at times Dax and Jurny’s rhymes can get a little too complicated and wordy to follow, but overall, The Earth Worm is a stellar debut that I’m sure you’ll enjoy if you give it a chance, and I’m certain that Jesus is proud and smiling down on his faithful servants for this one.

-Deedub

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Freedom of Soul – The 2nd Comin’ (November 28, 1995)

I would be remiss to not start this post out by sending a rest in peace to Black Rob and the heart and soul of Digital Underground, Shock G. Thank you both for your contributions to the music genre and culture that I hold near and dear to my heart.

Freedom of Soul was a Los Angeles-based Christian rap duo composed of Peace 586 and DJ Cartoon. The first time we heard from FOS was in 1991 with their debut album, Caught In A Land Of Time. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you probably already knew that, but if you’re new here or just skim through my posts occasionally, you can read my thoughts on the album right here. Or you can just read this quick recap: The album was full of weak rhymes with good intentions, decent production and plenty of room for development on both sides. A few years later, the two-man army for God would return with their sophomore effort, The 2nd Comin’. Get it? Their second album, Jesus’ return? Okay. Let’s move on.

Peace 586, along with his Christian ally and the heart and soul of the group, SFC, Sup The Chemist, handled most of the production on Caught In A Land Of Time, but this time around Peace takes a back seat (well, front seat, since he is still the lead emcee of the group) and lets Sup, DJ Cut No Slack and his partner in rhyme, DJ Cartoon, produce the bulk of The 2nd Comin’, only receiving one production credit out of the album’s nine tracks (technically ten, if you count the hidden three second interlude). The 2nd Comin’ would also be the last comin’ for Freedom of Soul, as Peace would begin his solo career, and I have absolutely no idea what DJ Cartoon went on to do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his name pops up again on this blog somewhere down the road receiving a production credit for another Christian group, because God works in mysterious ways, and interesting enough, that saying is not written anywhere in the bible.

Disclaimer: I’m not sure where I got the above album release date from, but I’m pretty sure it’s incorrect, since I recently looked at all the album inserts and copyrights and everything has “1994” written on it. But I’ve invested the last few weeks listening to The 2nd Comin’, so you’re gettin’ this post, even if it’s chronologically out of order.

The 2nd Comin’ – The title track finds a more animated than normal Peace 586 and DJ Cartoon talking sanctified trash, while mixing in a few biblical references and a few hints to get you to prepare for Christ’s return. The rhymes were kind of corny, but Sup’s instrumental was cool, and DJ Cartoon scratches in a portion of a Busta Rhymes’ bar from ATCQ’s classic posse joint “Scenario” on the first hook, satisfying Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post. The song is immediately followed by a short, subdued and uninteresting instrumental before the next song begins.

Home – The concept of this song is loosely based around the biblical text from Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. Peace discusses home, first in the literal sense, as he reminisces about his childhood memories coming up in the Bronx, before ending the song from a spiritual perspective of home on the last verse. The rhymes were so-so, but I like the concept and I enjoyed Peace’s smooth instrumental.

Dusk Till Dawn – Over a super creamy backdrop built around a heavenly-dipped piano loop, Peace is in freestyle mode, touching on everything from his rhyming abilities to his album being banned in some record stores (I’ve heard of albums being banned for being overly sexual (i.e., 2 Live Crew) or too violent (i.e., N.W.A.), but can you be too holy? Or maybe Christian record stores thought FOS’s content was too carnal. Either way, I would love to hear Peace elaborate on that line.), and of course, he mentions Jesus. At this point it’s safe to say that Peace won’t wow you with his rhymes, but Sup, once again, concocts a great backdrop for our host to rhyme over.

Sooner Or Later – Sup The Chemist and T-Bone join Peace on the mic for this posse joint, as the threesome take turns showcasing their rhyming abilities, but ultimately use it as a witnessing tool for Christ. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know that I’m a fan of both of Peace’s guests, and they rap circles around their host, but the true star of this one is Sup’s up-tempo backdrop, drenched in soulful airy vibes.

Not This Record – Pigeon John and B-Twice (collectively known as Brainwash Projects) join Peace on this zany joint that finds all three emcees rhyming animatedly and interrupting each other every few bars, and after several listens, I still have no idea what’s going on here. Sup, whose production has been super impressive up to this point, dishes out his first mishap of the night, making this already difficult listen even more of a battle to get through. Everything about this song reminds me of a bad imitation De La Soul record, circa De La Soul Is Dead. Later down the road, Brainwash Projects would polish up, refine and direct all their infectious charisma and animated energy into one of my personal favorite hip-hop albums of all-time (The Rise And Fall Of Brainwash Projects), but we’ll discuss that at a later date. At the conclusion of this song, you hear that irrelevant three second interlude that I talked about in the opening. Side note: If you’re looking for the correct track listing for this album, make sure to follow the listing on the back of the jewel case, since the listing on the inside of the liner notes incorrectly places this song after the next song. Of course, that’s only if you’re old school like me and still have CDs. Moving on…

Never Changes – In a super abstract roundabout way, Peace uses this one to rap about the everlasting unconditional love of God, while Crystal Lewis stops by to sing the hook, sprinkling her soft and sweet voice over the track. Cartoon’s instrumental sounds borderline sappy, but I still enjoyed the song.

Soul Swingers – Peace uses this one to spew more freestyle rhymes and of course shouts out JC a few times during the process. DJ Cut No Slack’s instrumental goes through three different metamorphosis and all three phases sound dope as, for lack of a better word, hell.

SonShyne – Peace invites LPG (Dax and Jurny Big, who we’ll be talking about more in the very near future) to join him on this one, as the three emcees elegantly rap praises to the Father’s only begotten son over DJ Cut No Slack’s beautiful banger of a backdrop. This is easily the best song on The 2nd Comin’.

How Much It Cost? – The last song of the evening finds Peace calling out emcees he feels have sold their souls in order to get a foot into the music industry. As usual, Peace’s rhymes are mediocre, but they sound even more drab when placed over Cartoon’s yawn-provoking instrumental.

The 2nd Comin’ is definitely an improvement from Freedom of Soul’s debut album. Peace’s decision to render most of the production duties to Cartoon and Sup, works out well, as the instrumentals are tighter this time around. And with the production responsibilities off his plate, Peace is able to focus more on his rhymes; and while no one will ever mistake him for Rakim, he does sound better than he did on the first album. Ultimately, The 2nd Comin’ is a concise satisfactory listen that will probably feed your soul more musically than with the rhymes. I’m sure that wasn’t FOS’ intention, but they should be proud they were able to provide some type of nourishment.

-Deedub

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Mic Geronimo – The Natural (November 28, 1995)

After the release of two of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time in Illmatic and The Infamous, the borough of Queens was on complete fire in the mid-nineties. Nas and Mobb Deep’s success made the door a little bit easier to enter for inspiring emcees coming out of Queens, so it was only a matter of time before someone else would take the baton and try to continue on with the borough’s winning ways. Who would be next? Insert Mic Geronimo into the game.

Born Michael McDermon, Mic Geronimo was discovered by a young up and coming producer, soon to be label exec and music mogul, Irv Gotti, who was impressed after hearing the Queens native rap at a local high school talent show. Irv would connect with Mic, producing his demo and helped him shop it, and it would eventually land Mic a deal with Blunt/TVT Records, where he would release his debut album, The Natural.

Along with production from his mentor, Irv Gotti, The Natural would also include production work from Buckwild, Da Beatminerz and Mark Sparks. Despite the backing from the impressive list of heavy hitting beatsmiths, the album moved miniscule numbers and made minimal noise, but it did bear fruit to at least one unheralded classic record (will get to that in a bit). Mic would get one more chance with TVT (releasing Vendetta in ’97), before walking down the independent label path to irrelevancy and joining Group Home on Nas’ “Where Are They Now” MIA list.

Side note: Mic does shoutout his Queens bredrin “Q-Tip and Phife” in the liner notes, so that satisfies our Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

The Natural – The first track of the night features a smooth head nodder (brought to you courtesy of Mark Sparks) that’s perfectly teed up for Mic to knock out the park. Unfortunately, our host is only able to squeeze a bunt single out of it (speaking of baseball references, it was dope to hear Mic shoutout the legendary Negro League and MLB pitcher, Satchel Paige at the end of both of his verses). This song is followed by the first of a series of skits that finds Mic and his crew flagging down a Taxi to hitch a ride to their destination, only to rob the driver once they get to there. I won’t mention these skits again during this post, because they’re boring and dumb as shit.

LifeCheck – Mic spits your average street shit on this one, and he doesn’t sound bad, but his bars just don’t have any character. I was more disappointed in the Da Beatminerz bland backdrop that rings as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny.

Wherever You Are – Mark Sparks gets things headed back in the right direction with this warm soulful groove built around an ill Bob James loop, while Mic Geronimo, once again, spits passable bars, but gives us nothing mesmerizing or memorable. Despite Mic’s mediocre performance, the instrumental and the catchy hook make this song worthy of listening to. It ends with a strongly-lisped slightly wino-slurred male voice sharing gibberish a poem about being a master, which is supposed to set up the next song…

Masta I.C. – This was the second single released from The Natural. Buckwild digs into his bag of tricks and pulls out this dark and mystical soundscape, while Geronimo sounds a hundred times better than he did on the three previous songs; his swaggy cadence and wordplay on this one makes him sound like a completely different rapper than we heard earlier in the evening. This brilliant record is an unheralded masterpiece, and without hearing the rest of his catalog, I’d be willing to bet it’s his magna opus.

Man Of My Own – Mic sounds like a mixture of Prodigy, Havoc (both of Mobb Deep) and randomly, Lil’ Dap, on this one, as he continues to spew street life inspired rhymes with moderate success. Chyskillz (rip) hooks up a decent dim backdrop, but not decent enough to make Mic’s rhymes thrive or make this song memorable.

Time To Build – Mic invites three future hip-hop Hall of Famers to take part in the cipher session with him: Ja Rule, Jay-Z and the late great dog himself, DMX. This song was recorded on the heels of the legendary battle between Jay-Z and DMX that took place in 1994, and Irv Gotti (who was going under the alias of DJ Irv in ’95, and is also the producer of this track) swears that most of Jay’s bar were aimed at DMX, who he was allegedly envious of because X was given the coveted last verse on this song. I didn’t hear anything in particular that sounded like a shot at X, but what I did hear was a subpar cipher session over a dry ass instrumental with the most unlikely of the four participants, Ja Rule, gettin’ off the strongest verse, and you’re a lie if you listened to this shit in ’95 and thought Ja, Jay and X would go on to have the successful careers in hip-hop that they did. Time is truly, illmatic. Rest in peace, Dark Man X.

Shit’s Real – Irv Gotti gets his second and last production credit of evening, as he flips a few loops from Deniece Williams’ classic record “Free” that Mic uses to half-assly show how real he keeps…shit. Like most of his lyrical output to this point, Mic doesn’t say anything worth quoting or rewinding, but the feel good vibes that permeate through the instrumental give this one plenty of replay value. Side note: This song begins with a skit that has Geronimo spittin’ game to a random chick and underneath their conversation you can hear a record playing in the background with Mic rapping the lyrics to this song over the instrumental to Zapp’s “Computer Love”, and it sounds pretty dope.

Three Stories High – With his second production credit of the evening, Buckwild blesses our host with a mean and grimy backdrop that he uses to reminisce and talk his shit, and he invite his crony, Royal Flush to join in on the fun. Both parties turn in solid verses, but  Buckwild’s fire instrumental is the engine that makes this car go.

Sharane – Geronimo uses this hard and dimly lit backdrop to share a hood version of the precautionary biblical tale of Samson and Delilah, with our host being Samson and some random chick he meets at a party named Sharane, playing the role of Delilah. Hey, wait a minute…could this be the same Sharane that would try to set up our friend, Kendrick Lamar, seventeen years later? Probably not. Kendrick’s assailant spelled her name with an “e” instead of an “a” and she lived in M.A.A.D. city, not the Wasteland. But I suppose she could have changed the spelling of her name, became a cougar and relocated to the Westside…but I digress. Mic’s storyline is decent and I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Sparks’ head nod inducing instrumental.

Men V. Many – O.C. and Royal Flush join Mic Geronimo to form, what O.C. calls a “dream team”, designed to take on the world aka many. To call these three emcees a dream team is a bit blasphemous, but it was downright disrespectful (and hi-larious) for them not to include their guy, Ceelow (not to be confused with CeeLo Green from Goodie Mob), who drops in at the mid-way point of the song to spit a verse, in their so-called “dream team” roster. All four of the participants contribute lukewarm bars and Da Beatminerz instrumental comes off a bit dull.

Train Of Thought – After two stellar instrumentals, Buckwild misses his chance at a hat trick by serving up this boring backdrop. Mic follows Buckwild’s lead and this one nearly put me to sleep.

Things Change – You can’t argue with this song title. Mark Sparks gets his final production credit of the night, lending Geronimo this slightly r&b tinged instrumental, as he invites Royal Flush to join him to spit verses about coming of age in the streets, and some uncredited male vocalists contribute a solid hook. After all the dark, gloomy and grimy production we heard on The Natural, the vibes on this song are quite a contrast, but a welcomed one.

Masta I.C. (Remix) – I was hoping Mic G would bring back the brilliant Buckwild instrumental from the original mix and invite O.C. and his Queens bredrin, Nas and Prodigy, to spit verses next to his, but he didn’t. Instead, we get an instrumental that’s average at best, forgettable cameos from Mr. Cheeks and Freaky Tah (rip) of the Lost Boyz and a semi-irriating hook from an uncredited female voice. And with that, we’re done.

On paper, The Natural has all the ingredients for the makings of a classic album: a competent emcee with production from some of the most respected hip-hop producers in the game. But unfortunately, the written word doesn’t always translate well when made audible. Thanks largely to Mark Sparks and Buckwild, some of The Natural bangs, but each banger is met with mediocrity, and the last I checked, a fifty percent success rate doesn’t constitute great or classic. More disappointing than The Natural’s hit and miss production is our host’s performance. Mic Geronimo definitely has the potential to spit high-quality bars (as he demonstrates on “Masta I.C.”), but his undynamic vocal tone, coupled with his run of the mill content and the album’s patchy production, makes it easy for the listener to get distracted or just lose interest. The Natural’s not a terrible album, but compared to the high quality output from some of Mic’s Queens peers, it’s definitely a disappointing debut.

-Deedub

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Guru Presents – Illkid Records (November 21, 1995)

 I have to start this post off by saying rest in peace to Earl “Dark Man X” Simmons. Thank you for your contributions to the culture and your presence will surely be missed.

 

 

The late great Guru will always be remember as the elite emcee with the monotone voice from the legendary duo, Gang Starr. For over a decade, Gang Starr gave the hip-hop world quality output, stringing together an impressive catalog that would cement the duo’s legacy as hip-hop royalty. But in between Gang Starr albums, both Premo and Guru would dabble with their solo side projects. While Premo was busy lacing all of your favorite emcees with brilliant boom-bap beats, Guru was collabing with jazz legends, fusing hip-hop vibes with jazz instrumentation, which would culminate into his Jazzmatazz series, releasing Volume 1 in ’93 and Volume 2 in ’95. 1995 would also see Guru getting into his entrepreneurial bag, as he would launch his independent label, Illkid Records, kicking things off with the compilation album: Guru Presents Illkid Records.

Guru Presents Illkid Records would showcase a bunch of inspiring and up and coming emcees with Guru stepping up to the mic a few times, but mostly playing the background, handling the production with a little help from a few friends. I don’t believe anything ever materialized from Illkid Records (other than an Illkid Records sampler), as even this project was released on the Payday/FFRR label, home to both Gang Starr Foundation artists, Group Home and Jeru The Damaja.

About a year ago, I came across a used cd copy of the album in the dollar bin at one of my favorite record stores, so you know I had to grab it. This post marks my first time listening to.

I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since the late great Guru passed away. Time is truly, illmatic. Continue to rest easy, Keith “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” Elam.

Illkid Intro – This album intro features Guru going under his alter-ego, Bald Head Slick, who raps a bit more aggresive than the laidback monotone style we’re accustom to hearing from Guru. Our host builds his instrumental around the same piano loop Dr. Butcher used for G. Rap’s “4, 5, 6”, and gets off two quick verses over it. Unfortunately, Guru’s Bald Head Slick’s rhymes sound a bit forced and sloppy, and the instrumental sounds empty and hollow.

Wordplay – We were first introduced to Bahamadia on the phenomenal “Respect The Architect” off of Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol.2. What better way to promote her forthcoming debut album, Kollage, than with putting one of the album cuts on this compilation album? Guru hooks up a dope mid-tempo banger with a bodaciously bouncy bass line that Bahamadia uses to showcase her more than capable emcee abilities. This is a great track, and we’ll definitely be digging into her album in the very near future.

Life – Guru constructs a semi-somber, fully mellow backdrop for himself, M.O.P. and the three man crew, Stikken Moov, to take turns rhyming about the struggles and challenges that come with living the street life. If you’re a liner note junkie like myself, you may recognize the name Stikken Moov from the Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 insert, which gives credit to one-third of the group: “Gus Da Vigilante of Stikken Moov” for his verse on “Choice Of Weapons”, but I digress. Guru’s production work is decent and all of the emcees involved turn in adequate verses (even though Guru, who sounds like he’s still in “Bald Head Slick” mode, gets a little sloppy during his verse), but they don’t add anything new or unique to a subject that has been overly treaded through hip-hop’s history, rendering this song average at best.

Do What Pays Ya – Big Shug (not to be confused with Suge Knight) gets a solo joint, as he builds the song’s concept and hook around a part of his verse from Hard To Earn’s “F.A.L.A.”. Carlos Bess (who also contributed to a lot of the production on Jazzmatazz Vol. 2) provides Shug with a soulful mid-tempo instrumental that he uses to celebrate the never ending pursuit of C.R.E.A.M. Shug is not a great lyricist, but he has a knack for assembling simple, but sound bars delivered in his signature deadpan straightforward approach that more often than not amuses and entertains, and he does just that over this dope backdrop. And that’s word to Joe Frazier.

Victim Of Society – Baybe is another artist I first became familiar with from her cameos on Jazzmatazz Vol.2, where she sang the hook and adlibs on “Lifesaver” and “Feel The Music”. Guru rewards her efforts on his previous project by giving her her own song on this compilation. C. Bess (who co-produced “Lifesaver”) slides her an emotional instrumental that sounds reminiscent of the backdrop used for “Lifesaver”, and ironically, Baybe’s theme and content sounds a lot like that of “Lifesaver”. Hmm…maybe she should have titled this one “Lifesaver Part 2”.

Come Clean – Guru sticks Jeru The Damaja’s classic record onto this compilation, which I found extremely weird, considering the song was released as a single two years prior to this project. I guess since Jeru was also signed to Payday Records and a part of the Gang Starr Foundation, the label thought it’s inclusion on this album might help sell a few more units for both projects (that’s all speculation, folks). Regardless, hearing Jeru’s combat ready rhymes over Premo’s ridiculously brilliant instrumental never gets old.

Who’s The Truest – Guru reunites with Wu-Tang affiliate/producer, True Master, who produced a couple of joints on Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 and delivered quality bars on the sultry ode to marijuana: “Medicine”. He wears dual hats on this one as well, as he serves himself up a dusty, but slick backdrop to spew solid scientific bars with his underappreciated flow for one chiseled verse. My only issue with this song is it’s too short and left me wanting to hear more.

Rotten Apple – Guru officially introduces the duo, Operation Ratification to the world on this one (I say “officially” because half of the group, Panchi Da Wild Commachi, added some background vocals to Jazzmatazz Vol. 2‘s “Choice Of Weapon”). Our host slides OR a solid instrumental that they use to share their perspective on life in the streets of New York aka the Rotten Apple. This wasn’t bad, and the more you listen to it the better it sounds.

Hi Energy – I’m assuming Fabidden Fruit was a duo made up of the lead emcee Bu and Mik Rone, who must be the group’s deejay/producer or the B mic that rarely rhymes, as I’ve seen the group name credited on two songs before this (“Revelation” from Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 and “From Within Out” off The D&D Project) and Bu is the only one I’ve heard rhyme. Once again, Bu goes dolo on this one, as he bullies True Master’s rugged backdrop (his partner Mik Rone gets a co-production credit) with his gully bars and tough guy baritone. This one was really good, and I love The D.O.C. vocal snippet on the hook.

Momentum – Guru and Big Shug tag team the mic, slapping emcees and talking their shit over Guru’s simplistic, but slippery slick backdrop. This is a tough record and entertaining as hell.

Attack – Stikken Moov shared the mic with Guru and M.O.P. earlier in the evening (see “Life”), but this time they get their own joint, which finds the threesome in battle mode and a lot more energized than they were their first go round. Someone named Kendu is credited for the solid instrumental (that includes a vocal snippet from Method Man on the hook, adding another cameo credit to his impressive year), as the trio deliver passable verses.

So Called Friends – Guru invites Gang Starr Foundation members, Group Home, to close out this Illkid party. Our host serves them up a decent instrumental, and as usual, Melachi and Dap’s rhymes don’t have much to do with the song title, which also happens to be the hook. I didn’t love or hate this one.

Illkid Records is a far departure from what Guru served up on his first two installments of the Jazzmatazz series, as he, True Master and Carlos Bess replace the experimental jazz soundscapes with more traditional dusty boom-bap east coast beats for this go round. Illkid Records is not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid project that displays flashes of the potential Guru’s crew holds, and amongst the flashes are buried a few hidden gems, and one “what the fuck is this song doing on this album?” moment (see “Come Clean”). Guru will always be remembered for his unique vocal tone, quality rhymes and certified emcee abilities, and while no one will confuse his production work with the phenomenal output of his former Gang Starr partner, DJ Premier, he was no slouch behind the boards, either.

-Deedub

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