Original Flavor was a New York based duo that originally consisted of Ski and Suave Lover (Suave would leave the group after the first album and was replaced with T-Strong and DJ Chubby Chub, which may be the funniest deejay moniker in the history of hip-hop), who were managed by Damon “Rock-A-Fella” Dash and his cousin, Darien Dash under Damon’s Dash Entertainment imprint. Ski’s name may sound familiar to a lot of you, as it’s the same Ski that created the backdrops for 4 songs on Jay-Z classic debut Reasonable Doubt, including “Dead Presidents II”, and has produced tracks for several other artist over the years (Ski Beatz). Ski is kind of like the Darren Sproles of hip-hop producers: very productive but consistently slept on and under appreciated.
I first became familiar with Original Flavor by hearing the lead single “Can I Get Open” off of their second album Beyond Flavor. The single featured a cameo from Jay-Z when, as Nas put it, he used to rap like the Fu-Schnickens (which makes this the second time I’ve mentioned Nas, Jay-Z and the Fu-Schnickens together in the same post in the last three posts). None of the rhymes stuck with me but the sick instrumental behind the emcees made an impact. As much music as I was buying at the time, I’m still not sure why I never bought the Beyond Flavor album. I digress.
About 6 years ago while digging through the used cd bins at one of the music store that I frequent, I came across Original Flavor’s debut album This Is How It Is. Since the price was right and my only memory from them was a cameo from one of the best to ever do it over a sick instrumental, I did what any bona fide hip-hop head would do. I downloaded it illegally from the internet. Just kidding, I bought it.
This Is How It Is was released in 1992 on Atlantic records, and with the exception of two songs, was produced entirely by Ski, with executive producer credits going to Damon Dash, Darien Dash, and the legendary DJ Clark Kent (who gets production credits on a couple of songs). This Is How It Is didn’t get a lot of publicity, which is kind of surprising being it was released on a major label and all. I personally didn’t even know it existed before I ran across it that fateful day in January of 2009 (no, I don’t record the dates that I purchase albums. I just happened to find the receipt stuck in the cd case today. There are limits to my music geekiness, folks). Needless to say, the album didn’t move a lot of units, but it did allow Original Flavor the opportunity to release one more album before they disbanded and went their separate ways.
At the end of Original Flavor’s shoutouts in the liner notes it reads “P.S. SPECIAL O-FLAVOR BIG CRUNCHY DISS GOES OUT TO… N_ _ _ _ _ AND R _ _ _ _ _!” FILL IN THE BLANKS SUCKERS!” Kind of cowardly to only give their first initial, but I’m still interested to know who the two recipients of this “crunchy diss” are. If you know hit me in the comments.
This Is How It Is – To kicks things off, Ski lays down a mid tempo beat with a smooth guitar sample, that sounds suitable for laying on the beaches of Hawaii with a lay around your neck, while sipping on a margarita and eating a bag of Lay’s potato chips. You like how I laid that out? Ski and Suave don’t sound super impressive on this title track but I’ve heard a lot worse.
When I Make It – Ski and Suave each take a verse to explain to their parents their plans to skip the traditional route of going to college or getting a job, but instead will pursue a career in music, regardless of what their parents think. The duo then splits the third verse and encourages the listener to pursue his or her dreams no matter who doesn’t believe in you. Ski uses some smooth George Benson guitar samples for the backdrop and turns them into a thing of beauty. This was nice. Props to Original Flavor for coming with an original concept for this song.
Best Friend’s Girl – Over a jazzy instrumental driven by a sick piano loop, Ski relives the time when he completely violated the bro code and banged out his best friend’s girl. Not an associate’s women. Not a co-worker’s women. Not a casual friend’s girl. His best friend’s girl. I don’t care if this chick had Halle Berry’s face on Kim Kardashian’s body, that’s a complete no-no. To make matters worse, at the end of the song he then brags about how the song is based on a true story and that he got away with it, until he decided to snitch on himself by writing this song. Asshole.
Way Wit Words – Ski hooks up another jazzy instrumental with a buttery piano loop sprinkled over the verses and a sophisticated saxophone sample over the hook. He and Suave take turns bragging about how nice they are with the lyrics, but neither of them bother to live up to their boasts. The instrumental is so yummy you won’t really care what they’re saying over it.
Kick The Butta – Ski and Suave invite a few of their dudes, Sean Wan and Big Pub (or Big Rock?), to the cipher that takes place on this one. Ski takes a break away from the boards and lets legendary deejay Clark Kent and Larry Larr handled the production duties, which wasn’t a good idea. When you combine sub par rhymes with mediocre production, you get a hot mess of a song aka “Kick The Butta”.
Waitin’ 4 My Break – Our hosts move thing back in the right direction as Ski hooks up a decent instrumental that he and Suave use to discuss industry politics and the struggle of trying to get their foot in the door of this fickle music industry while staying true to their art. This was cool.
Handle The Technique – Ski samples the same Grover Washington Jr. record ATCQ used for “Push It Along” (“Loran’s Dance”) and add a nice horn sample, making this some ole smoothness. This is probably my favorite instrumental on an album that is stacked with beautiful backdrops. Again, if you’re looking for jaw dropping lyricism, you come to the wrong spot. But if you enjoy layered jazzy instrumentals you’re in for a treat.
Give ‘Em Some Wrek – This was passable.
Gumdrops – Ski samples the sick bass line from Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” as he and Suave sing praises to the first food sources of every baby. The titties, foo!
I Like It (Freestyle) – The first 20 seconds of the song starts with a sick guitar loop that will leave your face all crunched up. Then all hell breaks loose when the beautiful guitar loop is suddenly replaced with a basic drum beat and a messy instrumental, then I looked at the liner notes and read that Clark Kent (with a co-production credit going to Sean Wan) produced the track and it all made sense. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling this one.
Brain Storm – Ski takes his seat back behind the boards and steers this ship back in the right direction as he hooks up another beautiful jazz infused instrumental. Again, listening to Ski and Suave rhyme is equivalent to Charlie Brown’s teacher talking, so just enjoy the beautiful background noise.
Swingin’ – Original Flavor ends This Is How It Is with an up-tempo groove, complete with a nasty bass line, brought to you courtesy of yours truly, Ski. Suave and Ski both give their parting shots, and speaking of shots, I’m curious if Ski’s comment “I’m not from a Shaolin temple” was aimed at anyone in particular. Maybe not the Wu, as they weren’t quite poppin’ yet, but possibly the UMC’s? Fu-Schnickens? Hit me in the comments if you have the scoop.
If you completely remove “Kick The Butta” and “I Like It”, then remove the vocals from the remaining songs, This Is How It Is would be nearly flawless. Even back then, Ski-Beatz was a monster on the boards as he leaves plenty of prove on this album. The problem is This Is How It Is is not an instrumental album and Ski and Suave just aren’t that good with the rhymes. So, if you want to hear some quality early nineties hip-hop production (less two songs) and can block out or don’t mind listening to middle of the road emcees, This Is How It Is is the perfect album for you.