With the success of Another Bad Creation’s platinum selling Coolin’ At The Playground Ya Know! and Kris Kross’ triple platinum debut Totally Krossed Out, record labels were suddenly open to signing kid hip-hop acts in the early nineties. You had Chi-Ali. Da Youngstas. Shyheim. A+. And then their was Illegal.
Illegal was the teenage two-man crew consisting of Mr. Malik Edwards (from Holly Hill, South Carolina, and he’s also Snoop Dogg’s cousin) and Jamal Phillips (from Philly). The two met at a Naughty By Nature/TLC concert (who are currently touring together on the I Love The 90s Tour…time is illmatic) in North Carolina. Mr. Malik was rolling with Treach and Jamal was with Left Eye, and both were trying to get deals as solo artist. Shortly after their meeting, they decided to join forces and formed Illegal (according to Jamal, the name was given to them by Busta Rhymes after he heard them spit at a club). Another Bad Creation’s manager, Kevin Wells, introduced them to Dallas Austin, which led to them signing a deal on Dallas’ Rowdy Records label, where they would release their debut (and only) album The Untold Truth.
The Untold Truth would feature production from some of hip-hop’s most respected names (i.e. Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Erick Sermon, Biz Markie and Cool V), and unlike all of the kid groups listed above, Illegal didn’t have a clean image and actually had to put a parental advisory sticker on the album due to their dirty little mouths. The Untold Truth produced some mild hits, but overall was not received with a ton of praise. Illegal would soon after go their separate ways and work on their solo careers (Jamal released one solo album on Rowdy (that I’ll get to at some point in the future)and Malik released one single on Rowdy, but his full length project would be shelved and never saw the light of day), but neither would make much noise.
I came across The Untold Truth about a year ago while digging in the used bins at a record store in Chicago (shoutout to Reckless Records!). I’ve never listened to the album before now and I’m only familiar with the singles, of which two of the three I remember being pretty solid. I also do remember not being impressed by Malik or Jamal’s rhymes, but with the list of heavy hitting producers in the liner notes, even if Malik and Jamal stink up every song at least the beats will bang.
Back In The Day – The Untold Truth opens with what would ultimately be the third and final single released from the album. Over a slightly dark synth Colin Wolfe produced track, Malik and Jamal talk about their coming of age (which is hard for me to put in to perspective, considering they were thirteen or fourteen when the song was recorded…and the hook is even more hi-larious when you hear the little whippersnappers say “back in the day when I was a teenager”) in the mist of drugs and violence. Wolfe’s instrumental is decent, but the instrumental on the remix to this song (which was also used in the song’s video) is a lot more enjoyable.
Illegal Will Rock – Diamond D stops by and generously blesses the adolescent duo with a gem, as he turns a wicked Bill Withers bass line into a funky backdrop for the kids to spit their mediocre rhymes over. Jamal might have been slightly more skilled on the mic than Malik, but they both struggle with articulating their words, which makes it hard to make out what they’re saying at certain points of the song. But I’m sure Diamond’s flavorful instrumental will make you overlook all of the kiddos iniquities.
Head Or Gut – This was the first single from The Untold Truth, and the first of many shots the duo would fire at their kiddy contemporaries. This time around Jamal fires a direct shot at Chi-Ali, as he threatens to “smoke that ass” at the end of his first verse. Obviously, Jamal didn’t know he was fuckin’ with a real life killer in the making. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t a big fan of Erick Sermon’s production work post EPMD’s first break-up, and this song is a prime example why: his “funk” instrumental sounds like a bunch of random muffled noise, and the wannabe kid gangsters don’t make matters any better. I never cared much for this song in the past and that feeling still remains today.
CrumbSnatcher – On this one Malik and Jamal are on a mission to become drug lords, and Diamond D (who produced the track) also drops a verse about dealing dope, which sounds weird coming from the D.I.T.C. co-founder. From the concept, to the lyrics, to the uninspired instrumental, this was garbage.
We Getz Busy – This was the second single released from The Untold Truth. Illegal continues to fire shots at their kiddy rivals, as Malik calls out Chi-Ali, Da Youngstas and Kris Kross on his first verse (ABC is only spared due to their mutual relationship with Dallas Austin), and Erick Sermon also adds a verse to the song. The green-eyed bandit also gets his second production credit of the night and redeems himself with a sick guitar lick loop perfectly placed over his rumbling drums. This was actually pretty dope. Side note: the black and white video which has all three spitting in the studio, somehow makes the song sound even better. Go ahead and watch it for yourself and let me know if you agree.
Stick ‘Em Up – Again, Malik and Jamal try to convince the listener that they’re teen thugs and come off sounding like Onyx Jr. on this one. Colin Wolfe gets his second production credit of the evening, and unfortunately, this one doesn’t fair as well as his first one. So naturally, unbelievable rhymes + weak production = hot garbage.
Understand The Flow – Dallas Austin gets his first production credit of the night and actually creates a pretty solid backdrop for Illegal. Of course they don’t do much with it, but that’s beside the point.
On Da M.I.C. – Malik and Jamal are joined by Diggin’ In The Crates members, A.G. and Lord Finesse (who also gets credit for the instrumental) on this posse joint. Malik and Jamal stay consistent, as they don’t give us anything worth quoting on this song, and it almost feels like Andre and Finesse dumb down their verses in an attempt not to embarrass their snot-nosed hosts. I’m assuming Finesse didn’t want to waste one of his better instrumentals on this malnourished cypher session, because this instrumental is pretty bland.
Ban Da Iggidy – When Das EFX hit in 1992 with their stutter (or “iggidy”) style, many of your favorite rappers jumped on the bandwagon and copied the trend (i.e. Common and Ice Cube, to name a few). And while it worked for Das (for a short period of time), it was kind of annoying to hear everyone
biting adapting the style. So, when I saw the title of this song I thought this might be an interesting concept. But it’s not. Instead, it’s Illegal trying to convince the listener to forget about the “iggidy” and get with their new “uzo” style, which basically equates to them ending each word with “uzo” instead of “iggidy”, and it sounds fucking ridiculous! Dallas Austin serves up another solid instrumental, it just needs a better concept and stronger rhymes placed over it.
Lights, Camera, Action – Trash.
Interlude – This was a pretty awkward and an unnecessary interlude.
If U Want It – The final song of the evening has Malik and Jamal discussing one of hip-hop’s most popular subjects: bumping uglies. Illegal doesn’t bring anything new or worthwhile to the subject, and their hook (which sounds like something Naughty By Nature could have come up with, which might not be a far reach, considering Treach was Malik’s mentor) is complete garbage. Speaking of garbage, the Cool V/Biz Markie instrumental is not far from being trash, either.
The title of the album would lead one to believe that there would be some serious content and/or substance to the songs on The Untold Truth, but that’s not the case. The first song on the album (“Back In The Day”) gets personal, as Malik and Jamal recall the elements of street life that helped mold their hardcore mindsets, but that’s about it. From that point on the duo take the listener on an uninspired ride, firing gimmicky shots at other kid acts, occasionally dropping sub par freestyle rhymes, and posing like hardcore-drug-dealing-gun-toting thugs, which doesn’t sound remotely believable. And the big name producers whom I thought would give the puberty stricken duo some fire production, only manage to collectively deliver on a third of the tracks on The Untold Truth.
Ultimately, The Untold Truth is poo, and Malik and Jamal’s truths remain untold.