1993 has gotten off to a colorful start. We started the year in a Blue Funk but now we move on to a Black Mafia Life.
When it comes to west coast gangster rap and the G-funk sound, Above The Law should receive more credit for helping usher in both movements. Instead, the California collective is often overlooked and forgotten when that conversation comes up.
Above The Law, which originally consisted of Cold 187um, KM.G, Laylaw, Total K-oss and Go Mack, formed in the mid eighties in Pomona, California where they begin to develop their sound and hone their skills when they weren’t on the streets hustling. The group would eventually cross paths with Eazy-E and sign a deal on his Ruthless Records label, where they would release their critically acclaimed debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers in 1989 (which is alleged to have sold platinum, but I was unable to confirm that on RIAA’s website), followed by their 1991 EP Vocally Pimpin’, which many consider to be the first officially released G-Funk influenced album. I’ve never heard either of those releases in their entirety, but first became familiar with Above The Law with their 1993 second full length release Black Mafia Life.
Black Mafia Life was produced by their lead emcee Cold 187um (with a co-production credit going to Above The Law). Like Livin’ Like Hustlers, Black Mafia Life is also alleged to have gone platinum, but I couldn’t find evidence of this on the RIAA website either.
Rest in peace to KM.G who passed away in 2012.
Black Triangle – The album opens with this intro, that has Go Mack explaining the meaning of the Black Mafia Life in a few different distorted voices.
Never Missin’ A Beat – The instrumental that this one opens with is as funky as a thousand pounds of diarrhea and should have been made into its own song and spit over. Instead, after about a minute and a half of audio perfection (I manually looped this on cassette for my guys and I to spit over back in the day), 187 drops a completely different backdrop built around a loop from Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and handles this one dolo. Cold 187um isn’t the greatest emcee but his high pitch melodic delivery mixed with his pimp sensibilities make him interesting to listen to as he tiptoes over the quality backdrop.
Why Must I Feel Like Dat – KM.G joins Cold 187um on this one as they tag team mic, repping for Tha Pimp Clinic. KM.G mentions that a “P-Funk tape wakes me up every morning”, which becomes evident pretty quickly, as Funkadelic/Parliament loops and references are laced throughout Black Mafia Life. This song uses a loop from Parliament’s “I Can Move You (If You Let Me)” and a vocal sample from George Clinton’s classic “Atomic Dog”.
Commin’ Up – 187um goes dolo again on this one (with a few adlibs provided by KM.G) as he talks about the lessons he’s learned chasing the almighty dollar as a gangster and pimp. The slightly out of tune piano loop in the backdrop creates a dark feel and compliments 187’s content well. RBX would have sounded nice rhyming next to 187 on this, but it’s still sick as is.
Pimpology 101 – Over a smooth instrumental, 187 and KM.G give shout outs to some of their peeps (which includes a dude named Amp, who 187 hilariously rhymes “without him don’t you know that we would be on food stamps”). It was kind of weird to hear a shout out song placed a third of the way through the album. It kind of works as a pleasant intermission, giving you a chance to run to the fridge or take a bathroom break before the show continues.
Call It What U Want – ATL invites Tupac and Money B to join them on this one as they each spit a verse over a backdrop built around a deep bass line and a funky guitar loop. Neither Tupac or Money B (or KM.G) sound that impressive, but 187um shines, referencing childhood game quotes (“clear the smoke, and grab a fool by his throat, and don’t let him go until he holla holla Billygoat”) and hilariously scolds Money B for questioning him on choosing to be a gangster. Not the strongest song on the album, but decent.
Harda U R Tha Doppa U Faal – Over a hard funk backdrop, 187 and KM.G pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato, and sound pretty good in the process. This is one of those songs you might not feel the first few times you listen to it, but it will quickly grow on you; plus it sounds real nice when you bang it in the whip.
Game Wreck-Oniz-Iz Game – Over a slightly zany Cold 187 backdrop, ATL invites Eazy-E and Kokane to join them on this cipher cut. Eazy-E bats first (and even though he doesn’t sound great, his verse on this song sounds miles better than anything he spit on the horrendous 5150 Home 4 Tha Sick), with an animated Kokane going second, followed by KM.G, then 187 rapping things up. Not a great song, but tolerable.
Pimp Clinic – After a distorted voiced Go Mack (I think?) rambles on for a minute or so at the opening of this song, a dope beat drops, and just as you begin to nod your head and screw your face in enjoyment, it ends and morphs into a boring pile of dread. Interestingly, 187’s instrumental uses the same Parliament loop Dr. Dre would use on “Let Me Ride”, but it’s not nearly as affective.
V.S.O.P. – On the lead single from Black Mafia Life, ATL gives their favorite cognac some love (I wonder if they were compensated for the promotion). Even though 187 and KM.G’s verses have absolutely nothing to do with the liquor, they still sound pretty entertaining spitting over the One Way “Cutie Pie” influenced funk instrumental.
Process Of Elimination (Untouchakickamurdaqtion) – For the first time on Black Mafia Life, ATL takes off their pimp hats and get into some old gangsta shit. The song opens with 187 and KM.G shaking down a chump named “Tow truck Tommy” (which I find to be a hilarious moniker) who owes them money, and when they find out he’s short on what he owes, shots are fired. 187 lays down a hard and dark instrumental that he, KM.G and special guest, MC Ren exchange murder tales over. The New Jack City sound bite placed at the end of the song was a nice touch. I have no idea what the part of the song title in parentheses means, but this one is still pretty entertaining.
G’s & Macaronies – This is KM.G’s solo cut, but 187 makes sure his presence is felt as his adlibs are laced throughout the song. Based on the song title alone, I think you’re bright enough to figure out what this song is about. Thanks to the mediocre instrumental and rhymes, I don’t care much for this one.
G-Rupies Best Friend – Kokane returns to help 187 and KM.G continue their ongoing discussion of pimping. Not really a fan of this one either.
Mee Vs. My Ego – 187 and KM.G discuss the civil war that goes on between their true self and their gangsta/pimp alter egos. Speaking of alter ego, 187 starts his verse with his standard rap voice and by the midway point goes into a Shabba Ranks type chant, and it actually sounds pretty nice (did he say he can’t go to heaven with a dirty dick?). The backdrop is built around a sample of Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat”, but 187’s flip of the loop sounds harder than those who used it before him.
Outro – Black Mafia Life ends with KM.G and Go Mack (I think?) sharing a few parting words as 187’s pleasant and smooth instrumental plays underneath them.
Cold 187um brings his own brand of G-funk to Black Mafia Life, and with the exception of a few songs, his production bangs. Lyrically, he and KM.G rarely go beyond gangster posturing and pimp talk, but 187’s animated style keeps most of the songs interesting. Black Mafia Life may be three or so tracks too long but it’s still a solid effort from the self-proclaimed untouchable crew, and in my opinion, underappreciated.