Today’s review serves as another reminder of the many holes I have in my hip-hop collection.
Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed is the second album from the New York duo Nice & Smooth. I’ve never heard their debut album (although I recently stumbled upon the cassette version of their self titled debut in a bin full of old cassettes while looking for something else in my garage. I must have borrowed it from a friend back in the day and forgot about it), but I do remember one of their singles “Funky For You”, which was pretty hot, so I may have to cop the cd version on Amazon pretty soon.
The duo’s self titled debut was released on Sleeping Bag Record, former home to EPMD. Like EPMD Nice & Smooth would also join the Columbia Records family where they would release their sophomore effort Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed. Like their debut, Nice & Smooth would handle the majority of the production on Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed, with a few assists that we’ll get to later in the review. The album received favorable reviews but didn’t move a ton of units, which is pretty much the running theme with the albums reviewed on this blog.
Side note: Greg Nice’s jacket on the cover was pretty interesting. I remember suede jackets being cool in the nineties, but suede jackets with tassels? Are you for real?
Harmonize – Nice & Smooth begin the show by showing you how they harmonize, and just in case you weren’t clear on what they were doing they reinforce their intent on the corny hook. Nice and Smooth have always been Yin/Yang to me: G. Nice kicks lighthearted freestyle rhymes, while Smooth B usually has something insightful to say. Both do a decent job emceeing on this one. Unfortunately, the instrumental was generic and their singing buddies Pure Blend render an atrocious vocal contribution at the end of the song, which makes matters worse.
Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It Too – This is ode to a woman (or women) trying to two-time the duo was also released as a single off of Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed . Smooth B licks his singing chops (Brian McKnight he’s not) on the first verse and the hook while Greg Nice drops two verses and for the first time I can remember, he actually sticks to the song’s subject. The instrumental sounds like a Casio keyboard version of Guy’s “Teddy’s Jam” but it still manages to work. I remember the video version featured Pure Blend singing the hook (and sounding terrible) over a slightly different instrumental. The album version sounds much better.
Down The Line – Our hosts invite a few members of their crew to take part in this cypher session. After Greg Nice spits a few bars, Preacher Earl (I immediately thought of DMX, but it’s not that Earl) kicks thing off with a mediocre verse, followed by Melo T who reciprocates Earl’s contribution. Something going by the name of Bass Blaster bats third and waste his entire verse spitting tongue twisters (yes, it sounds just as corny as it reads), followed by Asu who spits a verse that barely registers over the instrumental. Guru (of Gang Starr) then spits an average verse before Smooth B steps in and delivers the best verse of the song. The liner notes credit Gang Starr on this song, which is only right since Guru spits a verse and they borrowed a huge chunk of Premo’s “Manifest” beat. This was very forgettable.
Sometimes I Rhyme Slow – Arguably the most popular song in the duo’s entire catalog, and my favorite Nice & Smooth joint. The duo sample Traci Chapman’s “Fast Car” for the backdrop as G. Nice is all over the place with his verse (as usual) and Smooth B turns in a somber verse about a girlfriend battling a coke addiction. Each half spits one verse and this one is over just as you start to really enjoy it. Classic.
Paranoia – In case you may have forgotten or you were still a twinkling in your mother’s eye, almost every rapper was endorsing marijuana in the early nineties. A weed song was almost mandatory, like a club banger is required on most rap albums today. This is Nice & Smooth’s ode to the weed smoke. Louie Vega gets a mention for the second consecutive post as he gets a production credit for the decent instrumental. I’m a little perplexed as to why they titled it “Paranoia”. Most weed smokers I know say it helps them relax and feel focused. Are we sure out hosts aren’t smoking ‘shrooms or angel dust?
Sex, Sex, Sex – If the title didn’t already give it a way, this song is about sex. Our hosts don’t tread any new water here. Like bad sex you’ll forget about this song as soon as it over.
“Billy-Gene” – Useless interlude that plays off of the MJ classic. Probably should have been place before “Sex, Sex, Sex”, but even placed there it would have been useless.
How To Flow – I believe this was the third single released from Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed. The duo open this one singing in the same melody of the Heatwave classic record “Decisions” before they get into their verses. G. Nice’s starts his first verse off discussing war and child abuse before quickly veering off course into just about everything: people catching vapors, making papes, someone knocking at his door, asking you to buy the album (and the “ca-single”, a blooper I’m surprised they didn’t catch in the final mix) before ending his first sixteen bragging how he has more rhymes than the mighty Thor. Huh? Living up to his moniker, Smooth B smoothly spills a cohesive verse over the track flawlessly, before they split the final verse (big props to Smooth B for using “converse” opposed to “conversate”). Unfortunately, Pure Blend reappears to ruin the hook with their out of tune harmony. Back in the day I wasn’t that fond of this song, but time must have won me over, or the amount of down right terrible hip-hop in today’s climate has made this one easier to digest. Either way, it was a decent listen.
Hip Hop Junkies – This was the first single released from the Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed. Like the previous song this one sounds better today than it did two decades ago. I still get a kick out of Smooth B’s last few bars of the song as he walks a fine line between corny and clever when he declares he’s not a begonia because he doesn’t beg. The instrumental (which sounds like it sampled some Beach Boys shit) used to be annoying as shit but today it sounds nerdy, innovative and kind of cool. Pure Blend’s singing on the hook still sounds god awful, though.
One, Two, And One More Makes Three – Another typical Nice & Smooth record: freestyle type rhymes with no real theme, complete with a party anthem refrain on the hook that loosely ties everything together. I like the instrumental on this one.
Pump It Up – Both emcees attempt to get scientific as Greg talks about electricity and high-octane, while Smooth B discusses protons, neutrons, cells, membranes, molecules as well as solids, liquids, and gases. The instrumental is decent but the break on the hook is really nice (complete with a Beastie Boy’s vocal sample from the “Hold It Now” record).
Step By Step – Our hosts rip the Sanford and Son theme song for the backdrop and sing a drunken hook about themselves in third person. G. Nice spits a nonsensical rhyme before Smooth B swoops in and delivers one quick verse, and this one is over quicker than you can say Nice & Smooth. And so is this the album.
Nice & Smooth are kind of like the odd couple of hip-hop:Greg Nice’s high-pitched nonsensical rhymes meets the laid back introspective lyrical approach of Smooth B (who in my opinion is extremely underrated). The genius of Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed is in the length of its songs: There are a few certified bangers on Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed but the majority of the songs are decent at best. Since all the songs are fairly short the bangers leave the listener wanting more while the decent to below average ones end before they bore the listener into a coma. Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed is a decent album but in a year packed with heavy hitters it pales in comparison.