The first time I heard Jamal-Ski was on “7 Dee Jays” from BDP’s Edutainment album. He stood out because he was the lone emcee to spit in a reggae style, and unlike most of the other ragamuffin/reggae emcees of the time (i.e. Shabba Ranks, Mad Lion) Jamal had a unique high pitch vocal tone. And by the way, he held his own, which says a lot when your rhyming next to one of the GOAT’s in KRS-One. The second time I heard Jamal-Ski was on his solo joint “Jump ‘N’ Move” from the Brand New Heavies’ Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1 album (I believe that song was also on one of the Madden video games, back in the day), and again he impressed over BNH’s bouncy and enjoyable instrumentation. A few years ago I came across Jamal-Ski’s solo debut album Roughneck Reality in the dollar bin, so you know I had to cop it.
Roughneck Reality would come and go without much press or praise (or record sales). Columbia couldn’t have put much money into adverting for the album, as I didn’t even know the album existed until I bought it, nor do I recall a single on the radio or seeing a video for any of the album’s songs.
But even worst than that, they chose to release Roughneck Reality on the same day as two hip-hop classics, and that spells trouble.
Medallion Masters Human Beat – Jamal-Ski hooks up a nice reggae-tinged backdrop, and even though I can’t catch everything he’s saying, his chanting sounds dope over the instrumental. This song probably sounded amazing at the club back in the nineties.
Texas Rumpus – Jamal-Ski rides this DJ Parker Lee instrumental pretty well. It kind of caught me off guard to hear Jamal call Ronald Regan a piece of shit at the end of his second verse. It’s not that I don’t understand why he would say it, I mean, the dude’s “war on drugs” movement in the eighties was clearing designed to incarcerate more black men. It just felt kind of random within the context of this song. I’m also confused as to what the hell the song title actually means.
Roughneck Intro – Kind of an interesting place to put an album intro, considering we’re already two songs into the album, but whatever. It plays as it reads: Over random sound bites and a basic beat, Jamal welcomes the listener to the album.
African Borders (Skeffington Mix) – Apparently this was released as one of the single from Roughneck Reality, although I don’t remember it from back in the day. Over a decent Skeff Anselm produced backdrop, Jamal-Ski pays respect to some important historical black men, briefly speaks on the plight of the black man, and sends shoutouts to the Motherland.
Akbar’s Groove – Jamal-Ski takes a back seat for this one and lets his boy Akbar AK47 take the wheel. Akbar takes full advantage of the opportunity and spits a fully grown verse over a basic drum beat and a funky guitar loop, with sick bars like “Brothers who try to riff get twisted up like dreadlocks, I’m bigger than a bread box, I walk like Redd Foxx” or “And when it comes to rhymes my style is unlike others, who try to get fly when they know they ain’t the Wright (right) brothers”. I was impressed, and would definitely love to hear more shots from Akbar’s AK.
Jump, Spread Out – The song’s title immediately made me think of the “Jump ‘N’ Move” joint he did with The Brand New Heavies, but that’s where the comparison ends. DJ Parker Lee hooks up a pulsating instrumental with a nasty bass line for Jamal-Ski to do his thing over. This was dope.
Hangin’ Tree – On this one Jamal calls for all drug dealers to be hung for killing their own with poison. I like Jamal’s melodic instrumental, even if it’s too soft for the song’s content.
Poom Poom – Over a smooth mid-tempo DJ Parker Lee groove Jamal-Ski covers one of hip-hop’s favorite topics: sex. If you haven’t figured it out yet “poom poom” is slang for vagina. Like all emcees, Jamal brags about his sexual prowess, and while he doesn’t cover any new territory he still makes it sound interesting. By the way, why did all the emcees in the nineties lie about not going down on women? Negro, please!
Night Rider – No, this is not an ode to Michael Knight and KITT. Instead its a completely forgettable song that could have been left off of Roughneck Reality. That’s all I got.
Jah Jah Vibes – This is pretty much an interlude that lets DJ Parker Lee showcase his skills on the ones and two’s.
Ragga Youth (Featuring Michael Rose) – Jamal-Ski shows sympathy for the struggle of the disenfranchised youth in the inner-city and encourages them to hold their heads as well. He invites his buddy Michael Rose to sing the hook. Parker Lee’s instrumental has a regal feel to it and it’s pretty nice.
Holy Sacrament – Giving shoutouts to weed was almost a prerequisite for any hip-hop album in the early nineties, and Jamal-Ski would not be an exception to that rule. Jamal’s ode to the green leaf isn’t great by any stretch, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have been missed by even the most avid weed smoker had it been left on the cutting room floor.
Recognize – Our host gives his shoutouts over a rough instrumental.
Put It On (Pure Braggadap) (Featuring Rocker T & Mr. Live) – Jamal invites Rocker T and Mr. Live to join him on this cipher joint. Rocker T spits a reggae chant first, followed by a mediocre verse from Mr. Live, then our host makes his presence felt and spits the strongest verse of the song. DJ Parker Lee’s instrumental is decent, but the live bass line, courtesy of Jay Anderson, is completely nasty, in a good way (it kind of reminds me of the bass line from BDP’s “The Bridge Is Over”, only it sounds bigger, sonically).
Terrible Man – This is easily the most gangster song on Roughneck Reality. Parker Lee hooks up a gritty boom bap backdrop for Jamal-Ski to get grimy over as he talks his shit and makes G-threats, and the hook sounds like it could be used in a horror movie. The more I listen to this song the more I appreciate it.
Ya Dig – Short interlude that has Jamal-Ski rambling on in a different voice (at least for the first part) over some after hours jazz club instrumentation. It doesn’t add or take anything away from the album, so whatever.
Piece Of Reality – This is our host’s call for revolution, as he calls out the U.S. Government for their closet corruption. Jamal goes hard on this one, as he threatens to “drop one bomb on the Pentagon” and declares “a lie is a lie, a scheme is a scheme, the U.S. Government is the biggest scheme team, they sell the most drugs and have the most artillery”. As dope as Jamal’s rhymes are on this song my favorite part of the song is the hook, where Jamal declares Oliver North, David Duke, Ronald Regan and H.W. Bush (who has recently made his way back into the news for being an alleged ass grabber) pieces of shit, which makes the song title even more clever. This is easily one of the strongest songs on Roughneck Reality. I wonder what Jamal-Ski thinks of Donald Trump.
Last Word – This must have been an inside joke. But to the listener on the outside, it’s useless.
Ragga Youth (DJ Smash Jazz Mix) – I absolutely love the good vibes DJ Smash’s remix bring to this song. It’s a lot more enjoyable than the original mix.
With the exception of Bob Marley, I’ve never been a big fan of dancehall, reggae, reggatone, or whatever other form or name Jamaican influenced music comes in, but Roughneck Reality is a pretty solid effort from Jamal-Ski. The album’s nineteen songs feel like a lot to sort through, and of course when an album has that many tracks your going to haves some useless filler material, but the bulk of the production is solid and Jamal-Ski proves to be a skilled enough emcee to hold the listener’s attention, for the most part. Roughneck Reality is not great, but a solid album that will forever live in the shadows of Enter The Wu-Tang(36 Chambers) and Midnight Marauders.