Anybody that reads my blog with any regularity knows how I feel about Kool G. Rap. But for those who don’t, a quick summary: he’s a great lyricist that doesn’t receive nearly the amount of credit he deserves. After going back and checking his first two albums, Road To The Riches and Wanted:Dead Or Alive, it occurred to me that while the heavily lisped emcee is an undeniable beast on the mic, maybe the fact that neither of his first two albums were spectacular could have some effect on the people’s’ opinion of him. Maybe G. Rap was aware of this too, as he would switch things up a bit on he and Polo’s third release Live And Let Die.
While G. Rap was known to do a little tough guy talk from time to time, Live And Let Die is the album that he would begin to reinvent himself as a ruthless gangsta throughout the majority of the album. Along with his new-found persona, he would also bring in Ice Cube’s right hand man, Sir Jinx, to produce the bulk of the album.
None of these changes helped Live And Let Die move units, as it probably didn’t even go wood. But forget the sales; we here at TimeIsIllmatic are only concerned about the quality.
Intro – Short introduction to New York city and the album.
On The Run – This was the second single released from Live And Let Die. G. Rap plays the role of a drug runner for a Mafia family, who one day gets the bright idea to rob his boss and skip town, but things don’t go as smooth as expected. The whole story line sounds like something Scarface would spit (even G. Rap’s delivery sounds similar to Face’s on this one). I like Sir Jinx’s smooth instrumental but it doesn’t really fit the mood of the song. You may remember the single/video version used a harder instrumental which was a much better fit for G. Rap’s content.
Live And Let Die – For the title song, G. Rap explains his rough upbringing and the things he saw in the hood that would lead to him becoming a ruthless drug dealer. Jinx’s instrumental uses the same Blackbyrds’ sample used on Da Lench Mob’s “Lord Have Mercy”, but when mixed together with the rest of the stuff he has going on in it, it sounds like a hot mess.
Crime Pays – Over a miniscule Jinx’s backdrop, G. Rap spits two verses that highlight the benefits of the fast life. I don’t agree with all of G. Rap’s theories, but he does makes some interesting points on this one. This may have been a dope song if Jinx’s instrumental was of a higher quality.
Home Sweet Home – The song title and content are a tongue-in-cheek take on the woes that come with living in the hood. Jinx’s instrumental is decent, and the song overall is pretty cool.
Train Robbery – In great detail, Kool G. explains the ins and out of what the title suggest. In today’s super sensitive and politically correct climate, there is no way a label would release a song like this (especially the part when he forces a woman to give him oral sex). Jinx’s instrumental is empty but it kind of works within the song’s scheme. If you take this for what it is, which is a movie type drama articulated through hip-hop, you’ll be able to appreciate it.
# 1 With A Bullet – This one opens with the sick Chi-Lites trumpet sample that would become mega popular after being used on Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love”. The sample had me believing that Jinx was going to come with some fire on this one; then the beat kicks in and the instrumental falls a part. G Rap invites his Juice Crew brethren, Big Daddy Kane to spit a verse on this one. Kane’s a dope emcee but gangsta rap is not his lane, which is made very apparent on this one.
Operation CB – This is one of the few songs I remember from Live And Let Die from back in they day. On this one G. Rap drops two hi-larious verses about cock blockers: Sir Jinx is the culprit in verse one, and the second verse calls out a kid who’s being babysat by a chick G. Rap is trying to smash. Jinx’s instrumental is decent, but G. Rap’s punch lines are so potent on this one it could have been accapella and would have still been entertaining. It was also a nice break away from all his gangster posturing.
Straight Jacket – The Trackmasters (or Trakmasterz, which is how they spelled their name at the time) get their first production credit of the night, and it’s actually a pretty solid backdrop. G. Rap uses it to invite the listener into the mind of a psychopath. This is another one that a Face cameo would have been perfect for. All in all, pretty nice.
Ill Street Blues – This was the lead single from Live And Let Die. The Trakmasterz hook up a nasty groove for our host to spill more of his murders raps over. I love the line “so to the next weasel that freezes, your begging and your pleases are only getting you closer to meeting Jesus”. This is probably the best song on the album.
Go For Your Guns – Over a serious Sir Jinx’s backdrop, G. Rap gives several examples why he’d rather use his gun than his fists in a battle. This was dope.
Letters – I wasn’t really feeling this one.
Nuff Said – G. Rap spits one long verse full of threats and sound pretty good in the process. Jinx’s instrumental kind of pissed me off, though. During G. Rap’s verse, it sounds like garbage; then all of a sudden at the end of the song it goes into a bluesy organ and guitar loop that would have been nice to hear underneath G. Rap’s verse. Wtf Jinx!
Edge Of Sanity – Over a melancholy instrumental, G. Rap discusses how his past bad decisions lead to him making more bad decisions, and the consequences have him on the verge of going insane. This one was pretty cool.
Fuck U Man -This one picks up where Wanted: Dead Or Alive’s “Talk Like Sex” left off. Over a decent Trakmasterz instrumental, G. Rap drops clever punch line after punch line as he assumes the role of Fuck U Man, which sounds like the perfect name for a porn superhero, or Deadpool. G. Rap is guaranteed to make you laugh at this one.
Still Wanted Dead Or Alive – More murderous threats from our hosts. Well, at least one of them. I’m not sure what Polo actually contributes to Live And Let Die; which is probably why this would be the last album that would list them as a duo. Jinx’s instrumental is semi-decent, though.
Two To The Head – For the final song of the evening, G. Rap invites Scarface (whom I’ve been waiting to show up for pretty much the whole album), Bushwick Bill, and Ice Cube to join him on this bloody cypher session, as each party tries to sound more psychotic than the others. While Cube probably contributes the best verse, Jinx’s dark instrumental is the true star of this one.
Live And Let Die marks the beginning of G. Rap’s new-found mafioso flow, as he would continue to get deeper into this style as his career went on. Even though I’m not big fan of this version of G. Rap, there’s still no disputing, son is sick on the mic. Speaking of not being a big fan of, Sir Jinx production is really uneven throughout Live And Let Die (surprisingly, the Trakmasters provide three quality tracks, which make me wonder what Live And Let Die would sound like had they taken the production wheel). When you combine the hit and miss production with G. Rap’s repetitive narrative for the bulk of the seventeen songs, as much as I was hoping I could, there is absolutely no way I can call Live And Let Die a dope album. It not terrible, but not even in the same galaxy of classic status.
Warner bros.sabotaged this album from the jump. A lot of the samples couldn’t be cleared because of the content. Then the finished product was rejected. For instance, #1 with a bullet was a totally different song, but the sample couldn’t be cleared. Finally Cold Chillin just put it out without Warner Bros. It’s not jinx’s fault on the production because a lot of the songs were redone. The low sales were a result of the album being delayed for do long.
I meant to long, not do long.
Interesting insight. I would love to hear what the album would have sound like with Jinx’s original samples. Thanks for the commentary!
Another reason for low sales was the controversy over the cover art. The original cover was supposed to be g rap and polo robbing a bank with the photo being in black and white through a surveillance camera’s perspective, but no bank would allow them the use of their building for such an image. The second option was to have the group hopping inside a van with sacks of money and guns, but a new policy that record labels were taking at the time didn’t allow weapons on album covers. The cover that graces the album now was the idea of famous hip hop album photographer George Dubose. The album was eventually shelved and remained out of print until it was re-released in 2008. The cop killer mess also played a part in this.
Not sure how you don’t feel Letters. That song was dope.
I think this album when listening to it now 28 years later still sounds pretty good its funky and hardcore…liked it when i was 18 too