By 1994 the Hieroglyphics crew was fast on their way to becoming a force to be reckoned with. In 1993 the West Coast collective released Del The Funky (or sometimes Funkee) Homosapien’s No Need For Alarm, followed by Souls of Mischief’s debut album 93′ Til Infinity, both which were well received and respected by most hip-hop heads alike. Oakland native, Jon “Casual” Owens, who made cameos on both albums as well as Kurious’ A Constipated Monkey, would be next up to bat for the Hiero crew in 1994, releasing his debut album, Fear Itself on Jive Records.
Fear Itself‘s (which is taken from the famous Franklin Roosevelt quote) soundscape would be shaped by most of the same parties that helped shape Del’s No Need For Alarm and Soul’s 93′ Til Infinity: Domino, Del, Jay-Biz and Casual. Fear Itself didn’t move a ton of units, nor did it make a ton of noise when it was released. I was aware the album existed back in the day. but never checked for it, and honestly don’t remember hearing any of its singles or seeing any videos, which is kind of surprising considering it was released on Jive, who did market and promote for a lot of their artist back in the day.
If you read this blog on a regular basis you already know how I feel about Casual. Hopefully Fear Itself will turn me into a believer.
Intro – Casual kicks Fear Itself off with a simple yet enjoyable Domino produced instrumental and a true freestyle straight off the top of the dome that sounds pretty impressive and gets the album off to a good start.
You Flunked – Casual spits battle rhymes and sounds very similar to his Hieroglyphics leader, Del. Our host also gets his first production credit of the evening, laying down a decent instrumental with a warm horn loop brought in during the hook, that I absolutely love. This was a decent listen.
Me-O-Mi-O – Domino’s instrumental sounds like something you would hear on Sesame Street and Casual continues to spew relentless battle raps. Next…
Get Off It – I like Casual’s instrumental, but I’m quickly becoming bored with his repetitive content.
That’s How It Is – This was the first song on Fear Itself to catch my attention the first listen through. Del concocts a serious instrumental laced with a nasty horn loop that means business. Casual is still in battle mode, but spits his strongest lines on this one: “I write raps and when niggas bite I clap, cause they shit sound better now”…”to alligators lurking in the moat, peep what I wrote, ya bit so hard I thought the shit was a quote”…”Enough with the wackness, enough is my check, enough with these muthafuckas bitin’ Das EFX”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Fear Itself.
That Bullshit – Prior to his legendary battle with Casual and the Hiero crew, Saafir was in good standing with his Oakland bredrin. So much so that our host even gave Saafir his own spot on Fear Itself to spit a quick verse over a an instrumental he produced himself. I wasn’t a fan of Saafir before this one and I’m definitely not one after hearing this, um, bullshit.
Follow The Funk – More of the same: Casual boasting over a decent Domino instrumental. Next…
Who’s It On – Domino hooks up a pleasant jazzy backdrop for Causal and his Hiero bredrin, Pep Love and Del to each spit a verse on. The instrumental definitely outshines the emcees on this one. And another thing: what’s up with all Casual’s hooks being one line phrases repeated a thousand times over? Lame.
I Didn’t Mean To – For the first time on Fear Itself, our host steps away from the boasting and battle rhymes. Casual’s all tongue-in-cheek as he issues a half-ass apology to his homeboy for smashin’ his girl. This was a cute concept and Casual’s instrumental was pretty nice.
We Got It Like That – The more I listen to Fear Itself the more I appreciate Domino’s production, like this one for instance. But on the flip side, the more I listen to Casual’s “one trick pony rhyming style” the less entertaining Fear Itself sounds.
A Little Something – Our host gets a duet with his mentor, Del. Casual lays the decent track for the duo to each spit a verse over and lets his guest bat first, then follows right behind him, sounding like his shadow. Short and sweet.
This Is How We Rip Shit – Don’t let the plurality in the song title fool you. Even though, Snupe (one half of Extra Prolific) and A-Plus (a fourth of Souls of Mischief) stop by and contribute the hook, this it just more of Casual lyrically sparring with imaginary opponents. I wasn’t crazy about this one.
Lose In The End – Casual takes a brief break from his battle raps and uses the three verses on this song to articulately share about a run in he had with the police. I like Domino’s up-tempo instrumental, but Casual’s story did nothing for me.
Thoughts Of The Thoughtful – Domino flips a slick Roy Ayers loop and turns it into some ole smooth shit for our host to spit upon. Casual doesn’t go outside of his normal subject matter of boasts, brags and battle raps, but the sophistication of this instrumental suits the continuous inflections in his voice and his laid back delivery, so when he spits lines like “go check ya glossary, cause I gots to be, the bombed ass supreme vocalist, I cream folks with this versification, signed Cas” (it sounds better over the beat than written) it sounds more entertaining than most of his other output on Fear Itself .
Chained Minds – Casual gets his final production credit of the evening for this one, and he definitely gets his Vanessa Williams on (aka saves his best for last). Casual uses the dope instrumental, which has a very serious feel to it, to let fools know he’s not only nice on the mic but if required he can get busy with his hands or the hammers as well. And of course he articulates his “gangsta” in the signature eloquent Hiero manner.
Be Thousand – The final song on Fear Itself finds our host sharing a tale about how a visit to smash a chick turns into drama with a random dude. Domino lays down some tribal like drums with a muffled bassy loop (that almost sounds like a voice) placed over them, and the two combined together have an understated smoothness that makes Casual’s mildly entertaining story easier to digest.
On Fear Itself (which is an extremely dope album title) Casual, who’s cadence and delivery heavily resemble his mentor Del’s, proves to be a competent and lyrical emcee with a vast vocabulary. Unfortunately, Casual’s content quickly becomes repetitive and for as many battle raps as he spews on Fear Itself, their not that impressive. He, Del and Domino (I didn’t like the instrumental for the one track that Jay-Biz produced, see “This Is How We Rip Shit”) do a pretty solid job on the production side, even if it may take several listens to appreciate it, but the instrumentals aren’t good enough to make Casual sound interesting.