Jesse West might not be a household name, but he’s been grinding since the eighties and has a pretty impressive resume under his belt. I first heard Jesse West on his cameo appearance on Heavy D’s Blue Funk cipher joint “A Bunch of Niggas”, where he goes by his alias, 3rd Eye. Many don’t know that the South Bronx native was one of Bad Boys original “Hitmen” who helped Biggie Smalls with his first demo and produced remixes for Mary J Blige’s classic What’s The 411? album. But before all that, Jesse West was one of the first rappers to sign a deal and release a hip-hop album on the mecca of soul music, Motown.
Jesse released his debut album No Prisoners in the fall of 1989. The album was almost completely produced by Gordon Williams with co-production help from Jesse. I came across a vinyl copy about a year ago at one of the used music stores I check out (shoutout to Treetop Records!) and haven’t listen to it until now. The album didn’t produce any hit singles and even without checking RIAA’s website, I’m absolutely certain that it didn’t earn any certifications or plaques. Matter of fact, I’m sure that the only other person that has a copy of this album is Tony A. Wilson. Confirm and hit me in the comments, T.
No Prisoners – The album opens with a decent drum beat and some cheesy instrumentation that sounds like it was created on a Casio keyboard. But in a weird way, it’s still decent. Mr. West comes out sounding like a poor man’s Rakim, and he actually sounds pretty nimble with his word play.
Renegade – Jesse changes his vocal tone to a slightly rougher feel that matches Gordon Williams’ (who I’ll refer to as Gordo from here one on) rugged backdrop. I like the horns on the hook, and once again, Jesse sounds pretty decent on the mic.
I’m A Warrior – JW was a renegade on the previous song and now he’s a warrior. He also displays a third different voice in as many songs. Meanwhile, Gordo sounds like he’s still constructing his beats on the Casio. This one kind of reminds me of the instrumental for LL’s “Eat ‘Em Up L Chill”, only not as good, but still solid.
State Of Your Mind – Our host resorts back to his poor man’s Rakim delivery and uses this song to remind the listener that your success is all determined by how you think. He also manages to slip in a little 5 Percent teaching in the process. While Gordo’s production work on the previous songs had a cheesy synth feel that kind of worked, this one is complete garbage. I like the message but not the music.
Prelude To Madness – Short interlude/skit/spoken word piece that sets up the next song…
This Is Madness – Jesse stays in his conscious mode as he addresses crack babies, drug addicts, black on black crime and the importance of knowledge in this corrupt country (it was kind of funny to hear Jesse refer to himself as “a worldwide celebrity”). Gordo redeems himself from the painfully bad backdrop for “State Of Your Mind” and hooks up a decent instrumental for this one. That concludes side one of No Prisoners, if you’re listening on cassette or vinyl.
Do You Wanna Party – Side two of No Prisoners begins with an up-tempo instrumental that was clearly created to get asses on the dance floor. I completely understand if you think Gordo’s instrumental is cheese, but I kind of like it. Now, there’s no justifying Jesse’s lyrics on this song. They are undeniably corny.
I Saw You – Jesse has caught his girl red-handed snuggled up with some other chump, and he spends the length of this song calling her out and ultimately breaking up with her. Our host sounds more like he’s talking than rapping, and I’m not a fan of his sing-along-hook, either. I’m also not a fan of Jesse’s instrumental (with a co-production credit going to Gordo), which was clearly created for pop consumption.
The Master – Gordo lays down an up-tempo backdrop with a techno feel over tribal like drums, and Jesse gets back to his emcee shit. On the last verse Jesse calls out Kool Chip, who he accuses of biting his style. Before listening to this song, I had no idea who Kool Chip was. After a little research, I found out that he and legendary radio DJ, Chuck Chillout, put out an album just a few month or so after No Prisoners was released. Kool Chip, who is also from the Bronx, had a song named “Rhythm Is The Master”, which uses pretty much the same instrumental and the same “Slaaaaaave” vocal sample as this song. Hmmm…maybe there’s truth to Jesse’s accusations.
For James – JW dedicates this interlude to the Godfather of soul, James Brown. In 1988 JB begin serving a six-year bid for aggravated assault and a few other felonies. He only ended up serving two and a half of the years, so maybe Jesse’s plea to “free James Brown” on this interlude helped get the legendary soul singer’s time reduced. I’m sure it didn’t, but whatever.
Concrete Jungle – Gordo slides our host a flat imitation reggae track that he uses to talk bout the happening and the struggle in the concrete jungle, aka the hood. Jesse’s flow is all over the place as he goes in and out of rhyming and chanting without warning. Not a fan of this one.
Black Bomb – JW invites his buddy Rich Nice (who you can often hear contributing on Sway In The Morning’s A&R Room segment on XM Radio’s Shade 45) to join him on this one, as they tag team the mic and page homage to some of the historical black figures who helped bring change to America. This is the only song on No Prisoners that Jess West is credited as the sole producer. Unfortunately, it’s not a good one. To add insult to injury, Jesse and Rich Nice’s rhymes sound dated too. Random factoid: Rich Nice was the first musical guest to appear on the classic nineties sketch comedy show, In Living Color. I don’t have any documentation to back that fact, only Sway Calloway’s word, which is better than having written documentation.
Well, Jesse West definitely sounds a lot different from his alter ego, 3rd Eye, which I first heard back in ’93. And without the pseudo Onyx vibe, he’s actually a decent emcee. Ultimately what does No Prisoners in is its cheesy production. There are a few passable songs, but the majority of Gordon Williams and Jesse West’s beats are generic poop. Even though No Prisoners is trash, if I came across his later works I’d pick them up (if the price is right), just to hear if his rhymes got tighter and his production improved.