Wreckx-N-Effect – Hard Or Smooth (November 24, 1992)

After the release of their self-titled debut full length album, Wreckx N Effect went through a lot of changes. Even with the lead single “New Jack Swing”, becoming a number one hit on the Billboard Rap Charts, Motown decided to sever ties with the trio. Then In 1990, tragedy would strike when the group’s deejay, Brandon Mitchell was murdered in an apparent shootout. Mitchell’s death almost caused Aqil and Markell to pack it up and call it quits for WNE, but the duo would press on. In honor of their fallen comrade and childhood friend, they would change the spelling of the group name from “Wrecks-N-Effect” to “Wreckx-N-Effect”, and join Markell’s big brother and the group’s mentor, Teddy Riley, at MCA (where Guy was signed to at the time), where they would release their sophomore effort, Hard Or Smooth.

Even though he received minimal credit on WNE’s debut EP and no credit on their debut album (and I’m positive he played a major part in shaping the sound of both projects), Teddy Riley (who I’ll only refer to as TR from here on) would receive co-production credit for every song on the album, along with Aqil and Markell getting a co-credit for most of the album as well. Hard Or Smooth would go on to become a platinum selling commercial success, thanks largely to the album’s double platinum selling smash hit lead single, “Rump Shaker”, that you can still hear on an old school mix at least ten times a day around the globe.

I remember my brother had a cassette copy of Hard Or Smooth back in the day, but I had no interest in WNE, as I summed them up to soft new jack swing r&b rappers, and at the time I was heavy into hardcore hip-hop. But it seems lately I’ve been stumbling upon all their albums during my crate digging excursions, including Hard Or Smooth. This is my first time listening to the album, so hopefully Aqil and Markell build on the potential they showed on their last outing.

Rump Shaker – WNE starts the night off with fireworks, serving up the biggest hit in their limited catalog. Aqil and Markell each spit a verse encouraging the ladies to shake their sexy asses, and TR even steps from behind the boards to add a verse to the song. The instrumental sounds empty without The Emotions loop that was added to the single/video version of the record, but it is what it is. I never cared much for this song, but I completely understand why they made it their lead single. It reeks of pop crossover vibes, and dammit, it worked.

New Jack Swing II – TR and the fellas revisit the second biggest hit in the WNE catalog, as all three parties rhyme with chips on their shoulders, defending the musical style that TR fathered and attempt to silence the naysayers who said they couldn’t rap. Markell bats first and surprisingly, sounds pretty decent as he stands up for his big bro (“Everybody bumpin’ their gums about the swing, frontin’ on my brother like he didn’t believe a thing”). TR follows up Markell’s verse, and it sounds like he may have sent a shot at A Tribe Called Quest, though I can’t quite make out his bars (legend has it that Wreckx-N-Effect’s crew jumped Q-Tip outside of a night club, leaving his eye pretty badly bruised (which is why he wore that mask in the “Hot Sex” video) over Phife’s line from “Jazz We’ve Got” when he said: “Me sweat another? I do my own thing, strictly hardcore tracks, not a new jack swing”…Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check). Aqil closes things out, rapping with a hunger and aggression that we didn’t get from him on their previous projects, and son’s his partner in rhyme in the process: “There’s two of Wreckx and I’m younger than the other, but dig it, when it comes to the lyrics I’m the big brother, and Mark ain’t scared to come and get me, so if he decides to dis, you let it be, cause ain’t a soul that can get with me”. The backdrop is built around the same Joe Cocker loop that Dr. Dre would later tap for 2pac’s “California Love”, giving this version a much harder sound than part one. The last two minutes of the record morph into something you would hear an HBCU Marching Band play, and it sounds amazing. This shit was pretty impressive.

Wreckx Shop – Our hosts keep things on some real hip-hop shit, as Aqil and Markell continue to try and convince the listener and other emcees to take them seriously. It sounds like Markell takes a subliminal shot at Phife during his first verse, as he ends it with “I act like Jodeci and maybe stay a little while, but my sixteen bars is up and doggy shit is not my style”. “Doggy”, as in: Phife Dog). But Markie’s lyrical blemishes quickly begin to show, and at certain points of this song he sounds like he’s auditioning to be the third member of Kriss Kross. Aqil, on the other hand, continues to sound hungry and motivated, as he gets off a few clever bars on this one as well. The energy level drops a bit compared to the previous song, but I still enjoyed the laidback funk groove and the bass line that reminds me of Ashley Graham: thick and sexy.

Knock-N-Boots – Aqil’s in full-blown horny mode on this one, seeking a sexy young tender that he can leave with her Timberlands tipped over “like an oak tree”, while Markell plays John Stockton on the hook. This is decent filler material, but it’s not a good sign to have to resort to a song this average this early in the track sequencing.

Here We Come – More New Jack Swing filler that left me feeling empty.

Tell Me How You Feel – Aqil taps into his softer side and uses this one to ask his lady to express and communicate her feelings to him. The instrumental sounds like it was inspired by Heavy D’s “Is It Good To You”, which was also produced by TR, and Tammy Lucas (who sung on Hev’s version and made her own version of “Is It Good To You”, which was featured on the Juice Soundtrack) drops in to sing adlibs that sound similar to the riffs she sung on Hev’s joint (Question of the day: Which version of “Is it Good To You” do you prefer: Heavy D’s or Tammy Lucas’? Let me know in the comments). I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s tolerable.

My Cutie – After pretty much sitting out the last three songs, Markell returns with his first solo joint of the evening. Over a smooth mid-tempo groove, extra heavy on the r&b, Markie describes the girl of his lustful dreams over the course of three verses. By the way, am I the only one not turned on by the idea of having sex with a woman dripping in honey? Sounds like one hot sticky mess to me…but I digress. Though his lyrical prowess is nowhere near the level of the DITC emcee, Markell’s vocal tone and delivery kind of remind me of Lord Finesse, and his conversational approach to this track disguises his limited rhyming ability. This makes for a decent record to chill out and sip a little somethin’ with your wife, lady, jump off or escort, on a nice summer day.

Wreckx-N-Effect – TR and ’em concoct a mid-tempo New Jack Jazzy Swing backdrop (I love the zany horn loop on this one) that Aqil, excuse me, A-Plus and Markell tag team the mic over, as they take turns talking their shit and making super awkward references to their genitalia (i.e. “The only thing soft about the Wreckx, is our jimmy’s in the pool and hours after sex” and “Man, get off the dick nigga, and stay off the dick nigga, cause these dicks only get bigger”). Despite all the dick talk, this is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Ez Come Ez Go (What Goes Up Must Come Down) – Over crisp drums and a bouncy bass line, Aqil discusses the highs and lows that come with being an artist in the music industry. This is another decent record that sounds better the more you listen to it.

Hard (Short) – TR and the crew hook up the same piano loop that, in my opinion, will always belong to Marley Marl and his Juice Crew’s classic posse joint “The Symphony”. Aqil spits one very aggressive verse over it, and his bars are decent, but after the damage Kane and G. Rap previously inflicted on it, you have to come harder (no pun intended).

Smooth (Short) – The final song of the night finds Markell going dolo, as he gets off a quick verse over a very lazy and uncreative flip of Barry White’s “Playing A Game, Baby”, which is another sample that should be hung up in hip-hop’s rafters. Markell sounds horrible, repeating words uncontrollably and “miggiddying” the listen to death, as he limps to the finish line. Speaking of death, Markell closes the song by shouting out his deceased homies, whom I’m sure were shaking their heads in the grave after this embarrassingly bad rendition.

Hard Or Smooth will forever be remembered as the “Rump Shaker” album, and after living with the album these past few weeks, that label is justifiable. It’s not to say that Hard Or Smooth is a terrible album, as it actually lives up to the low expectations that I had of it and Wrecks-N-Effect. Aqil’s rhyming skills continue to show improvement (I’d be interested to hear how he sounds over a batch of Premo’s boom-bap, as his beats have a way of bringing the best out of a rapper), and there are about three songs on the album that I really enjoyed, but the bulk of Hard Or Smooth is filled with mediocre rhymes (some of Markell’s are actually horrible) and average New Jack Swing instrumentals, leaving the album as a whole a forgettable middle of the road listen, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

-Deedub

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