Luniz – Operation Stackola (July 4, 1995)

The Luniz (originally known as the LuniTunes) are the Oakland based rap duo made up of Yukmouth and Knumskull, and will forever be remembered for giving the world, arguably the biggest weed smoker’s anthem of all time, “I Got 5 On It”. The song was a huge hit in ’95 (making it into the top ten on the Billboard Charts) and it still pops up regularly on someone’s throwback mix everyday somewhere in this world. A few years ago, Jordan Peele resurrected the song and gave it a facelift as he used it in his horror flick, Us. While almost everybody is familiar with “I Got 5 On It”, I’m sure only a small fraction have ever listened to the Luniz debut album, Operation Stackola. 

The album’s title is just a fancy way of saying: get that money. The Luniz would call on a host of friends to produce Operation Stackola, including longtime Rap-A-Lot affiliate, N.O. Joe and the lead man of Digital Underground, Shock G. Thanks largely to the platinum selling lead single, the album would also go on to earn the duo a platinum plaque and it received positive reviews from the critics.

In Operation Stackola’s liner notes, the Luniz describe themselves as a group that represents the “Crazy comical wild side of gangsta hip-hop”, which is definitely the vibe they give off with “I Got 5 On It”. Let’s see if the rest of the album sticks to that theme, and more importantly, if the album is any good.

Intro – The Luniz open Operation Stackola with a short medley of snippets taken from a few of their songs.

Put The Lead On Ya – The Luniz sound everything but comical on this one. They invite their Oakland bredrin, Dru Down to join them, as they use the first song of the evening to let you know that they will put bullets in yo’ ass, or as Dru Drown so entertainingly puts it during his verse: “puttin’ quarter holes in fools”. Knumskull, Yukmouth and Dru all sound decent on this one, but Tone Capone’s dark and raw instrumental is the engine that makes this whip go.

I Got 5 On It – This is the smash hit record I’ve been talking about since the opening of this post, and the song that will forever define the Luniz legacy in the annuls of hip-hop. Tone Capone samples Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” for the backdrop, while the Luniz use their verses to promote unity when it comes to buying a dime bag of weed (shout out to the very underrated and forgotten Sega Genius video game, Shinobi). The Club Nouveau loop was genius, but Michael Marshall (the former lead singer of Timex Social Club that you might the group responsible for “Rumors”) gives the record a soul, belting out heartfelt notes on the hook in an attempt to convince his homie to go half on a sack with him. I don’t even smoke, but Mike is so convincing on the hook that I’d go half on a sack with him. Side note: If you have time, check out this article about Michael’s love-hate relationship with this song and the industry over the years.

Broke Hos – Shock G hooks up a laidback jazzy instrumental and borrows a portion of Gwen Guthrie’s 80’s hit “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” for the hook, while the Luniz sound like male gold diggers, claiming they don’t mess with “broke hos” and spewing lines like “A bitch can’t help me, less that bitch wealthy” and “Me don’t want a broke ass hoochie, ’cause they coochie stink”. Very juvenile content and unimpressive lyrics, but I enjoyed Shock’s instrumentation.

Pimps, Playas & Hustlas – Our hosts make this a family affair, inviting Dru Down and Richie Rich to join them as they rap praises to all the male street personalities over a whiny somberish west coast-tinged backdrop, concocted by N.O. Joe. Joe’s instrumental grows on you after a few listens, but the Luniz and their guests underwhelming performances never changes.

Playa Hata – E-A-Ski and CMT G-funk the shit out of Bobby Caldwell’s classic “What You Won’t Do For Love”, as the Luniz discuss what I’m sure you can figure out by the song title. Some dude credited simply as Teddy in the liner notes, gives the song additional flavor as he croons some solid notes on the hook and adlibs (shout out to Tevin Campbell!). Once again, the music was way more enjoyable than the Luniz’ rhymes.

Broke Niggaz – Digital Underground affiliate, DJ Fuse (also one-half of Raw Fusion) gets his second production credit of the evening (he is also credited for the intro) and he hooks the duo up with a decent stripped down bare boned instrumental. Yuk and Knum invite Knucklehead (whose alias sounds like he could be the third member of the Luniz) and Eclipse to join in on the discussion of what type of brother makes the best criminal, adding a clever Ice Cube vocal snippet on the hook to drive their point home. This makes for an adequate album cut, I guess.

Operation Stackola – The title track features a funky mid-tempo N.O. Joe produced instrumental and the Luniz discussing all the illegal business they involved themselves in, in order to stack that cheddar…fetti…you know…money. I wasn’t crazy about this one.

5150 – The song title is slang for crazy, which is derived from the clinical code they use when an individual is deemed dangerous to themselves or others and placed in a 72 hour involuntary holding facility. The Luniz use this song to share street tales of near death experiences (during the song’s intro they actually come face to face with Shock Gesus…I see what ya’ll did there…clever) that leave them feeling…loony. Unfortunately, Yuk and Knum fail to sound convincing or entertaining on this one. I like the darkish Shock G produced backdrop, though.

900 Blame A Nigga – Shock G gets his final production credit of evening, sliding Yuk and Knum a solid mid-tempo bop that they use to comically discuss why black men seem to get blamed for every crime that goes down under the sun. This was pretty entertaining. Definitely more of what I would expect to hear from a group called the Luniz.

Yellow Brick Road – This isn’t the same road that Dorothy and Toto eased on down. The road the Luniz walk is made with bricks of coke. N.O. Joe’s southern-fried synth heavy backdrop is passable, but not good enough to give this song any replay value.

So Much Drama – Nik Nack joins the Luniz on this one, and none of the three rappers say anything memorable. During Yukmouth’s verse, I did learn that the Luniz had beef with Master P over the term “Ice cream man”, as they claim they coined the phrase. Their claim may have some merit, since our hosts and Dru Down made a song called “Ice Cream Man” that appeared on Dru Down’s ’94 release Explicit Game. The song’s content is underwhelming, but this instrumental will always be near and dear to my heart, as this song and its instrumental were on the B-side of the “I Got 5 On It” single that me and one of my guys boosted from Sam Goody to rap over back in the day. The dense bass line and funky guitar licks sound even better today than they did 25 years ago.

Plead Guilty – This one begins with an uncredited male voice (it sounds like it might be B-Legit from The Click) blaming the government for putting illegal drugs in the hood for black men to sell, kill their own with, get caught and then sent to prision to serve long sentences. DJ Darryl hooks up a funky little bop that Yuk and Knum use to spit verses about slangin’ and getting caught to which they rebuttal with “Why should I plead guilty?” on the hook. The Luniz idea was solid, but the execution was choppy. At least the stank on the instrumental will have you noddin’ your head and screwing your face.

I Got 5 On It (Reprise) – This sounds like it was the original draft of the song. The verses are longer and more profane than the earlier mix, and Michael Marshall swaps out “patna” with “nigga” and sounds a lot less enthusiastic about splitting the ten on this dime bag. There is really no reason why this song should have been included on the album.

Outro – The album ends with a couple of dudes arguing, then you here a car peel out. End scene. End album.

Based on the group’s name and the short description in the liner notes of what their about, I was expecting more light-hearted comical content from the Luniz on Operation Stackola. While they do give us a few of those moments, most of the album is laced with traditional gangsta rap themes (i.e. drugs, money, violence and bitches), and more troublesome, subpar rapping. Neither Yukmouth nor Knumskull are great lyricists and their indistinct rap voices get lost in the production to the point they sound like guests on their own album. But even less appealing than their vocal tones and technical skill is their juvenile content, or more so, their inability to make the juvenile content sound interesting. The production by committee formula that the Luniz use on Operation Stackola works, for the most part, as the host of producers cook up a solid chunk of clean west coast flavored instrumentals that you’ll be moved to groove to. It’s just too bad that the Luniz couldn’t match the production’s energy.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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