The Artifacts are the Newark, New Jersey born and bred duo of Tame One and El Da Sensei. Like a lot of kids on the East Coast, Tame and El would first fall in love with hip-hop through graffiti, as they were both known for their tags. Eventually, the two would not only tag walls and trains but also begin to tag team the microphone. They became a group and would soon land a deal with Big Beat Records, where they would release their debut album Between A Rock And A Hard Place.
For some reason I always thought that Tame and El produced their own tracks, so I was a bit surprised when I read the liner notes and discovered that Buckwild, T-Ray and Redman produced the entire album. Between A Rock would produce a couple of underground hits, and even though it didn’t sell a ton of units it was well received by the streets and the critics (The Source even gave it a solid 4 mic rating). The Artifacts would release one more album in 1997 before breaking up and going their separate ways. Tame and El would go on to release a ton of solo albums and collab efforts on independent labels, and both continue to record and release music today.
I was very familiar with their first two singles back in the day, but for some reason I never copped the album. I probably just overlooked it due to the abundance of dope shit that seemed to be coming out on a weekly basis back then. I came across a used copy of Between A Rock And A Hard Place a few years back and this is my first time listening to it until now.
Don’t judge me.
Drama – (Mortal Kombat Fatality) – The Artifacts let a dope instrumental rock (courtesy of a dude who simply goes by Drew) that is equally beautiful and hard, and lives up to the song’s title.
C Mon Wit Da Git Down – Buckwild serves El and Tame One a groove filled with soulful heat that they use to make a decent first impression, even though this was the second single released from the album. This one sounds way better today than I remember it back in ’94.
Wrong Side Of Da Tracks – This was the lead single from Between A Rock that finds El and Tame paying homage to the art of graffiti and taggin’. T-Ray slides the duo an understated mellow backdrop complete with a soothing horn loop on the hook. This is an underrated gem from the nineties.
Heavy Ammunition – The Artifacts take turns comparing their rhymes to guns over a bassy T-Ray produced track. This was the first ho-hum moment of the evening for me.
Attack Of New Jeruzalum – Tame and El invite their buddy Jay Burns Jaya to join them on the mic as they each spit a verse over Buckwild’s instrumental. All three parties spit decent verses (shout out to Jay Burns for the Goya Adobo reference in his verse. My lady put me on to that a few years ago. Lawry’s aint got shit on that stuff when it comes to seasoning) but I was very unimpressed by Buckwild’s mediocre production work on this one.
Notty Headed Nigguhz – This shit was boring as hell.
Whayback – The Artifacts get things back on track (no pun intended) with this one. El and Tame reminisce about their introduction to hip-hop and the early days of them trying to get on while paying their dues. I absolutely love T-Ray’s smooth instrumental, and the horn loop intertwined throughout is a thing of beauty.
Flexi With Da Tech(nique) – Here’s yet another ho-hum joint. Wait…did I really just here Tame One say “Every female Huxtable was fuckable”? Rudy was thirteen years old when the Cosby Show ended. I see you R. Kelly.
Cummin’ Thru Ya Fuckin’ Block – Redman swoops through and provides a high energy hook along with the bangin’ bass heavy backdrop for his Jersey bredrin to rhyme on. I was super disappointed that Reggie didn’t spit a verse on this one, which might have benefited the Artifacts. Because we all know Red would have murdered them on their own shit.
Lower Da Boom – The Artifacts dedicate this ode to marijuana, as Tame and El take turns (similar to a joint) rhyming about all of its herbal goodness. Tame begins his second verse with “Ooh, I hope to live to see the day they make it legal, so all the people can see what I’m smokin’ aint evil”. Well, the way things are going, he may get his wish.
What Goes On? – Tame One and El use this one to explain why they call certain ladies bitches. Their reasoning is pretty juvenile, but Buckwild serves up arguably the best instrumental on Between A Rock.
Dynamite Soul – Solid filler material
Whassup Now Muthafucka? – T-Ray lays down a stripped-down backdrop (with an ill vocal sample on the hook) for Tame One and El to each spit a verse on and close out the album. The fellas don’t sound terrible on this one, but stronger emcees would have made T-Ray’s instrumental stand out more.
I’m sure my opinion will be the minority here, but I wasn’t super impressed by Between A Rock And A Hard Place. Tame One and El Da Sensei are average emcees at best, whose vocal tones and flows tend to run together, and while they never embarrass themselves on the album they don’t produce any outstanding lyrical output, either. Speaking of producing, Buckwild and T-Ray (and I can’t forget Redman) serve up some heat for the duo to spit on, but for every fire track they create there’s a mediocre one to match it. In my opinion, Between A Rock And A Hard Place falls somewhere in between mediocre and an average place.