Happy New Year folks! I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday season and enjoy the first post of 2019!
Through the years hip-hop has had its share of one hit wonders. Matter of fact, we’ve discussed a few of them on this blog. There was Positive K. Mellow Man Ace. D-Nice. House of Pain, and N2Deep, just to name a few. Ladies and gentlemen, today we add Ahmad to this esteemed list.
Ahmad Lewis is a Los Angeles born and bred emcee who made his National recording debut in 1993 with the song “Who Can” that was released on the soundtrack to the Robert Townsend produced flop, Meteor Man. Like the film, other than the sound of an exploding bomb, the soundtrack didn’t make much noise either, but Ahmad still managed to score a deal with Giant Records where he would release his one-derous hit “Back In The Day” in March of ’94 (more on that single in a bit). The single would earn Ahmad a gold plaque and set up his self-titled debut album that was released in May of 1994.
Ahmad would recruit his childhood friend and relative unknown, Kendal to produce most of the album, and he would handle all microphone duties by himself. Despite receiving favorable reviews, Ahmad didn’t move a ton of units and would soon be forgotten, and Ahmad would disappear from the scene, falling deep into the black hole of hip-hop irrelevancy. Ahmad would reinvent himself, resurfacing in the early 2000’s as the front man for the hip-hop band 4th Ave Jones, as they would make some noise on the underground scene, establishing a cult following and in my opinion, making some solid albums as well. But Ahmad would never experience the same level of exposure as he did during his “Back In The Day” era.
I’ve listened to Ahmad a few times over the years, but I’ve never fully digested it…until now.
Freak – Ahmad kicks the album off with a danceable Brian C Walls produced track (Ahmad gets a co-production credit and the underappreciated hip-hip guitarist Stan “The Guitar Man” Jones lays down some live chords) that sounds like it uses some interpolation of the Funkadelic classic “(Not Just) Knee Deep”. Ahmad sounds decent on the mic, but the song’s concept and the instrumental come off a bit cheesy.
Back In The Day – The remix of this song was easily the biggest hit on Ahmad. So much so, many forget (or never knew) that this version exists. Kendal builds the instrumental around a loop from The Staple Singers classic soul record “Lets Do It Again”, while Ahmad reminisces about the good old days of his childhood. A decent record, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the classic remix.
Touch The Ceiling – I’m not a fan of the generic funk instrumental, Ahmad’s uninspired rhymes or the incredibly annoying vocal sample of Funkdoobiest’s lead man Son Doobie. Next…
The Jones’ – Our host uses this one to talk his shit and rep for his crew, The Jones’. Ahmad does a decent job spittin’ on this one, but I’m curious why he didn’t invite any of the Jones crew members to rhyme on this one (the late great father of Auto-Tune Roger Troutman stops by to help out with the hook, though). Maybe he did and they declined because they found Kendal’s instrumental as bland as I did.
Can I Party? – Someone named Maurice Thompson takes a lazy uncreative loop from the funk classic “Flashlight” and turns it into a boring instrumental. Ahmad only makes matter worse with his generic party-themed rhymes.
You Gotta Be… – Kendal hooks up a drowsy synth driven mid-tempo instrumental that Ahmad uses to address the peer pressure put on young dudes in the hood to be tough guys. On the first verse Ahmad talks about being pressed by a crew of thugs to join their team, to which he comically replies “Far as I can see, I was gonna be, the next new member of the crew cause there’s 8 of them and 1 of me.” It was kind of cool to hear a rapper come from this perspective, but the song is still only decent at best.
We Want The Funk – Roger Troutman makes his second appearance of the evening, sticking to hook duties, while Ahmad spits more uninspired party rhymes over a generic mid-nineties style west coast funk instrumental that the Guitar Man’s funky licks can’t even rescue.
The Palladium – This song finds Ahmad rapping praises to his favorite night-time spot, The Palladium; where you can hang out, listen to good music and take part in every rapper’s favorite pastime, chasin’ hoes. Ahmad spits decent rhymes, and even though Kendal’s instrumental sounds a bit empty, it still kind of works. Technically, this isn’t a bad song, it just doesn’t have a heart or soul.
Homeboys First – Ahmad dedicates this one to the homies, staying true to the old adage “bro’s before hoes”. I love the sentiment and Ahmad sounds solid on the mic, but Kendal’s instrumental rings as hollow as a coconut.
Ordinary People – Kendal lays out a soulful backdrop built around a Crusaders loop (again, The Guitar Man contributes some chords to the backdrop) that Ahmad uses to celebrate the everyday (extra)ordinary people in our lives that often don’t get the credit they deserve. Speaking of not getting the credit they deserve, Brenda Lee Eager (Google her) matches the soul in Kendal’s instrumental with her powerful vocals on the hook and adlibs. Ahmad heartfeltly raps praises to his mom (“My mother alone helped me to be me, so that’s my role model not an idiot on tv”) and reminds the listener that “All the average Joe’s are no greater or no lesser than stars, cause all we all are is equal, so shutoff your TV set and show respect to some of the ordinary people.” Brilliant instrumental, great concept, and excellent execution. And since this is dedicated to
Back In The Day (Remix) – As I mentioned above, this is the remix that would become Ahmad’s biggest (and only) hit. The instrumental is built around a smooth loop from Teddy Pendergrass’ “Another Love TKO” (the liners notes credit Maurice Thompson, Jay Supreme and Ahmad with production credits, and Stan “The Guitar Man” Jones adds some beautiful guitar licks to the track as well) and recycles the same lyrics as the O.G. version. This is the best song on the album, with “Ordinary People” coming in a close second.
Back In The Day (Jeep Mix) – Same song as the previous remix with a few more added drum breaks.
Let me start by saying that I think Ahmad is a talented emcee. But sometimes only practice and time can help cultivate raw talent into its manifested full potential. Unfortunately, when it came time for Ahmad to create his self-titled debut, he still needed 6 more years. Ahmad actually rhymes pretty well on the album, it just feels like he didn’t have much to say (and that whiney nasally thing he does gets annoying at times), so too often he resorts to cookie cutter generic party themes. The biggest issue I have with Ahmad is the production. With the exception of the remix to “Back In The Day” and “Ordinary People”, the instrumentals on Ahmad are underwhelming, mediocre, heartless and soulless, and sometimes all of the above at the same time. I encourage y ‘all to check out some of Ahmad’s later work with 4th Ave Jones, but I can’t co-sign for this one.