It’s fair to say that west coast hip-hop in the late eighties and early nineties was dominated by gangster rap. With groups like Ice-T, N.W.A and Above The Law, that hardcore style of hip-hop proved to be lucrative and quickly brought on a bunch of copycats that bit the style, even if it the street life wasn’t necessarily their reality. But there were still some that went against the grain. One of the first to stand alone was Compton native, King Tee. King Tee had more of a playful/party/comical style, but was still respected by all of his west coast gangster colleagues. And even though he never gained the same commercial success as his peers, he definitely stayed true to himself and gained a significant cult follow (which reminds me that I have to find his first three albums). After establishing his own name, King Tee would start the Likwit crew, and the first group he would help get a deal would be Tha Alkaholiks.
Tha Alkaholiks were the three-man Los Angeles based crew consisting of J-Ro, Tash (who is originally from Cincinnati. Ohio) and the DJ/producer, E-Swift (who was born in Georgia, raised in Ohio and later moved to Cali). The trio would sign a deal with the budding hip-hop label, Loud Records (which had a distribution deal with RCA at the time), and released their debut album, 21 & Over, in the summer of 1993.
If you’re not familiar with the Alkaholiks, or can’t tell by the group’s name, the trio’s whole persona was a party vibe with light-hearted rhymes centered around drinking. 21 & Overwasn’t a commercial success, but it did earn the group some critical acclaim. AllMusic.com even said that it’s “perhaps the quintessential West Coast party album, as well as one of the most promising debut albums of the ’90s, regardless of genre”. With praises like these, I sometimes wonder why Tha Liks were never able to garner the same level of crossover appeal as say a Meth and Redman. It damn sure wasn’t because they didn’t have talent.
Likwit – 21 & Over opens with a slick instrumental with a dope flute loop (not to be confused with a fruit loop) scattered throughout, as J-Ro, Tash and their buddy King Tee, take turns spitting funny metaphors and clever one liners over it. This was the second single released from the album, and a fresh way to kick things off.
Only When I’m Drunk – The Liks keep the good times rolling, as E-Swift hooks up the same Whole Darn Family loop that EPMD previously used for “It’s Your Thing”, and that Jay-Z would later use for his duet with Foxy Brown, “Ain’t No Nigga”, but I digress. J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift use the wicked bass line to take turns sharing more light-hearted drunken rhymes (J-Ro even conjures up a “I had too much to drink” burp during his first verse, which is hi-larious). This one still sounds great twenty plus years later.
Last Call – The boys continue to play off of their group name with the song title and hook, but J-Ro and Tash (and less so, E-Swift) are on some straight emcee shit, as they talk shit and spew random rhymes. I’m not sure how I feel about E-Swift’s beat on this one, but J-Ro and Tash still manage to entertain with strong rhymes.
Can’t Tell Me Shit – This is pretty much a J-Ro solo joint. I say pretty much, because E-Swift starts the song off with a quick 8 bars, before J-Ro comes in and adds three of his own verses to end things. Once again, E-Swift provides a less than stellar instrumental for he and J-Ro to rhymes over, but J-Ro manages to make lemonade out of the lemon he was given.
Turn Tha Party Out – For those who don’t know, The Loot Pack was a three-man crew out of Oxnard, California, consisting of DJ Romes, Wildchild and most
importantly notably, Madlib (who I have always thought of as the underrated west coast version of J-Dilla). They stop by to join the Liks on this hot mess of a posse cut. And when I say hot mess, I mean hot mess. From the generic Loot Pack produced instrumental (I wonder how much input Madlib had in the production of this one) to the sloppy and corny rhymes, this song was an absolute…hot mess.
Bullshit – King Tee and E-Swift hook up a decent instrumental that King Tee and J-Ro take turns clowning and talking random shit over. This was a chill track, suitable for listening to while sipping a glass of wine on a weeknight.
Soda Pop – J-Ro takes a seat for this one, as E-Swift, Tash and special guest, Field Trip, each spit forgettable verses over an even more forgettable E-Swift produced instrumental.
Make Room – Ah, now this is more like it. This was lead single from 21 & Over, and a great way to introduce the world to the three-man crew. J-Ro and Tash sound sharp as razors over E-Swift’s bangin’ backdrop. Well done, gents.
Mary Jane – Apparently alcohol isn’t the Liks only vice. Over a minimal and slightly dark Loot Pack produced instrumental, J-Ro and Tash step away from the drinking clichés and punch lines and get creative with the metaphors, as they paint weed (aka Mary Jane) as a woman that they both love. Props to J-Ro and Tash for the well-thought out and executed concept.
Who Dem Niggas – E-Swift’s instrumental starts off sounding like it’s going to be fire, then the drum beat drops in, and everything falls apart. Speaking of falling apart, Threat continues to do the same on yet another cameo, as he joins J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift on this one and stinks up the cypher with sub par bars. It’s almost like Threat pulls J-Ro and Tash into his sunken place, because their bars on this one are trash as well. Or maybe E-Swift’s lame instrumental is to blame for all four emcees lack of inspiration. Regardless, this was a terrible ending to the evening.
J-Ro and Tash prove to be a formidable one-two punch on 21 & Over (and no, I didn’t forget about E-Swift. I purposely left him out of the equation). No, you won’t get mind-blowing lyricism or a ton of substance from the two, but their witty punch lines, light heart rhymes and college frat boy sensibilities will keep you entertained, and make you chuckle from time to time, even with most of the production falling in the middle of the road. Props to the trio for having the restraint to keep the track count to ten. It’s good to know that Tha Alkaholiks don’t over indulge on everything.