October 10, 1995 was a busy release day in hip-hop! This is the fourth and final post for that date…for now. Enjoy the read and Happy Holidays!!!
Souls of Mischief made quite the first impression with their debut album, 93 ‘Til Infinity, which really gained steam thanks in large part to the classic title song that would go on to be the biggest hit in the group’s catalog. But don’t get it twisted, most of the album cuts were also potent pieces, and the four man crew from Oakland crafted a damn near flawless debut album. Two years later Souls of Mischief would return with their sophomore effort, No Man’s Land.
No Man’s Land would be the Souls’ last album released on Jive, as they would go the independent route after this one. I’m not sure what led up to the separation between SOM and Jive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with the poor reception of No Man’s Land. Not only did the album commercially perform poorly, but it also received dismal to mediocre reviews from the critics.
In 1995 I ate, drank, and slept hip-hop and was very attentive and aware of who was releasing new music, even if I didn’t like the artist or buy the music. So, I have no idea how I completely missed No Man’s Land. I don’t remember hearing a single from the album on the radio or a seeing a video for one of the album’s singles on Yo! MTV Raps or Rap City. Matter of fact, I didn’t even know this album existed until well after 2ooo. I bought the album used for a couple of bucks a few years back and this write-up marks my first time listing to No Man’s Land.
On a completely random side note: Souls of Mischief shouts out A Tribe Called Quest in the album’s liner notes, fulfilling my very stagnant Tribe Degrees of Separation bit.
So You Wanna Be A… – No Man’s Land begins with a bangin’ drum beat, a thick bass line and jazzy vibes, all which correlate to a dope backdrop, courtesy of Opio. The instrumental had me all excited and ready to hear the foursome spew their eloquent abstracted battle raps, but instead all I get is a short interlude that finds the Souls chanting a refrain aimed at inspiring emcees. Oh well.
No Man’s Land – The Souls do use the title track to get into the eloquent abstractions I was looking to hear on the intro. Toure hooks up a chill funk guitar loop and a smooth horn sample over mid-tempo drums that SOM use to boast, brag and battle in their signature Hiero fashion. Phesto and A-Plus seem to let their hair down, as both their flows come with the traditional Oakland twang that was not heard on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Our hosts also invite their Hiero homeboy, Pep Love to officiate the song, adding useless shit talk in between verses, which probably sounds better than a meaningless wordy hook would have fared.
Rock It Like That – Apparently, this was the lead single from No Man’s Land and I’m still baffled on how I never heard this song on the radio or saw a video for it back in the day, but whatever. Opio’s instrumental is middling, the hook is horrendous and SOM’s rhymes sounds mediocre at best, so I guess I really didn’t miss anything.
Secret Service – A-Plus and Tajai play agents Plus and Massey, respectively, and share the details of a few of their government sanctioned assassination missions as secret agents over a ruggedly dark A-Plus produced backdrop. I’m not crazy about this one, but kudos to A-Plus and Tajai for the unique song concept.
FreshDopeDope – Jay Biz gets his first production credit of the evening and turns in a smooth mystical bop for SOM to continue to serve up their Oakland brand of battle bars. This one lives up to all three of the adjectives in the song title.
Where The Fuck You At? – What would a hip-hop album be without a little misogyny? SOM’s hormones are raging on this one, as Opio, Tajai and Phesto spew lusty lines about the objects of their erections. A-Plus deviates from the subject a bit and choses to share a short tale about a street dude who gets sent to jail and is now the object of his fellow inmates’ erections: it’s kind of out of place, but there’s always one jackass that goes against the grain just to stand out. Casual provides a hypnotic bluesy backdrop that works well behind SOM’s lewd lyrics.
’94 Via Satellite – Hieroglyphics founder, Del The Funky Homosapien drops in for this one and not only spits a verse alongside his SOM bredrin, but also provides the backdrop. The first few times I listened to this song I thought Del’s beat was decent, but the more I listen to it the more his off-kilter drums annoy me and sound cheesy, and all the other elements in the instrumental sound stale. The Souls stick to the battle-themed rhymes that have dominated the first half of No Man’s Land, but they barely resonate, largely due to the underwhelming backdrop.
Do You Want It? – A-Plus and Tajai are credited for this smooth jazz-tinged mid-tempo instrumental that our hosts use to brag and boast of their greatness in their signature Souls of Mischief style. This is definitely one of my favorites on the album.
Come Anew – Quick interlude that finds A-Plus and Phesto chatting about the past, present, future, getting paid and the emcees who bit their style over a chill loop and subdued drums.
Bumpshit – This one wasn’t terrible, but its replay value is very low.
Ya Don’t Stop – A-Plus builds the instrumental around a luscious loop (the same one Black Sheep used for Non-Fiction’s “Who’s Next?”) for himself and his SOM bredrin to rock over, and the foursome sound fresh during the process. By the way, Tajai and Opio are definitely the strongest emcees in the group. That was kind of a random thought, but whatever.
Yeah It Was You – While SOM takes a bathroom break, their homeboy, Pep Love grabs the mic and shares one quick verse over scarce drums and a somber loop. This was decent, but not enough to make me hunt down Pep’s whole catalog or anything.
Hotel, Motel – An enticingly melodic instrumental plays in the background while Tajai engages with a groupie in his hotel room (or motel room, choose your own adventure), who has nothing but questions about his fellow group members, and then he hi-lariously asks to see her ID, just to make sure she can legally accept the stabbing he’s trying to dish out. His pursuits of the booty are interrupted by a bunch of male groupies (whom Tajai affectionately refers to as “jerky ass niggas”) knocking at the door in hopes of spitting raps for Taj. Tajai quickly gets rid of the cock blockers and picks up where he left off at before he was rudely interrupted. Then the interlude ends and goes right into the next song that has absolutely nothing to do with this interlude.
Fa Sho Fo Real – Toure, along with Michael Witwer’s live guitar and bass play, create a soothing jazzy groove for our hosts to continue their verbal assault on other emcees. This is a solid record, and shout out to the female vocalist, Sora for providing the soft and tranquil notes on the hook. The song ends with Opio all fired up after listening to an unnamed rapper’s record whom he believes took a shot at the Souls on said song. He repeatedly asks his skeptical crew to rewind it so he can help them catch the alleged dis. Then the next song begins…
Dirty D’s Theme (Hoe Or Die) – I’m assuming the song title is either a shout out to the song’s producer (Extra Prolific’s frontman, Snupe, whose government name is Duane) or an encrypted response to whomever Opio was talking about at the end of the previous song, but who is this unnamed offender? My first thought was Domino, who produced about a third of 93 ‘Til Infinity and curiously had nothing to do with No Man’s Land, but he’s not a rapper and they actually shout him out in the album’s liner notes, so I can dead that theory. Then I looked at the “Hoe Or Die” portion of the song title and thought: “Could SOM be making a mockery of AZ’s debut album’s title, Doe Or Die, and aiming their verbal darts at him? I’ve never heard any rumblings of an AZ/Souls of Mischief beef, but you never know what might have been going on behind the scenes (by the way, if this speculative beef really did go down, I got my money on AZ. Hands down. I know he’s not known for his battle raps, but if push came to shove, I believe he could rip some unassuming emcees (*cough* Souls of Mischief) new assholes). More than likely the title is a shout out to Snupe and the battle bars SOM spits over his sleepy but pleasant and perfect for midnight marauding instrumental are more of the same random battle raps that have dominated most of No Man’s Land. Regardless, I still enjoyed this record.
Times Ain’t Fair – No Man’s Land’s finale finds SOM spitting all types of randomness and then ridiculously trying to tie their verses into the nonsensical hook. Oh well…At least the A-Plus/Tajai produced breezy backdrop was enjoyable.
No Man’s Land is a bit of an enigma: Souls of Mischief pretty much pick up where they left off at on their debut, using most of the album to brag, boast and battle, occasionally deviating from the syllabus to share a story or talk about chicks. I’ve never considered SOM to be top tier lyricists, but them boys can definitely rap, and their rhymes paired with their slick jazz-flavored production style helped make 93 ‘Til Infinity a damn near masterpiece. For some reason that formula doesn’t hit the same on No Man’s Land. Technically, the album sounds good, but SOM’s rhymes don’t sound as sharp and while most of the instrumentals have heart, they seem to lack soul. In a nutshell, No Man’s Land is missing the magic Souls of Mischief gave on their first go round. Would they recapture the magic on their third album? Stay tuned…