If you’re older than ten years old, I’m sure you’re familiar with the dreaded acronyms, HIV and AIDS, and more than likely you know someone who died from the deadly virus. In the late seventies-early eighties, seemingly out of nowhere, AIDS spread like wildfire, becoming a worldwide epidemic that would claim millions of lives throughout the eighties and nineties. I personally lost my uncle to AIDS, and I will never forget the shock and concern I felt in 1991 when Magic Johnson, at his basketball peak, announced to the world that he was HIV positive, which at the time felt like certain death. Thanks to advances in AIDS education and research, Magic is still alive today and testing HIV Positive is no longer the death sentence that it once was thirty years ago. Some of the credit for these advancements must go to organizations like the Red Hot Organization, a non-profit that formed in 1990 to raise money for HIV/AIDS relief and awareness, with one of their fundraising outlets being music. Red Hot would tap artists from different genres to create compilations albums, including the subject of today’s post, America Is Dying Slowly.
America Is Dying Slowly (a title that I’m sure most of you noticed is built around the AIDS acronym) would be the eighth project in the Red Hot compilation series and the first to exclusively feature all hip-hop artists, calling on respected rappers and producers from every region of the country to contribute to the project that the liners notes refers to as “A Soundtrack For Life”. Not only would America Is Dying Slowly help raise money for AIDS awareness, but it would also receive positive reviews, including a stamp of approval from The Source Magazine that called it “a masterpiece.”
I haven’t listened to America Is Dying Slowly in years, so this should be a fun refresher.
No Rubber, No Backstage Pass – The first track of the night pairs The Diabolical Biz Markie (rip) with Chubb Rock over a Prince Paul produced instrumental. The song title might lead you to believe this is going to be a warning about the importance of safe sex, and Chubb Rock eventually touches on the subject at hand during the last few bars of the song, but most of the record features Biz and Chubb spittin’ freestyle bars over Paul’s dope instrumental, built around dueling piano loops: one slightly drunken and the other sounds like a Loony Tunes cartoon character getting their head banged against the same piano key, repeatedly. My only issue with this song is the poor mixing, as it leaves some of Biz and Chubb’s rhymes hard to understand, but other than that, it’s a thumbs up. This one ends with a voice I don’t recognize sharing a few words about the importance of using condoms.
The Yearn – I mentioned a few posts ago during my write up of the Lost Boyz’ Legal Drug Money that there was a version of this song that had an additional verse from Pete Rock (who also produced the song) tacked on at the end. Well, this is it. The song still sounds great, and it fits right into the theme of the album. The song is followed by a quick soundbite from another voice I don’t recognize, that conveniently leaves the “S” off “AIDS” to make the acronym stand for “America Is Dying” as well as “Allah Is Divine,” bleeding (no pun intended) right into the next song.
America – The Wu sends a few of its finest to weigh in on the AIDS epidemic: Killah Priest, Raekwon, Rza, Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck all spits verses about different individuals who chose to go raw and unprotected and ended up with the HIV (I’m not clear on how Rae’s character, Javier contracted HIV: was it the dirty drugs needles or going raw in shorty? Or does Javier have the worst luck in the world and contracted it both ways?). Rza provides an emotional-bluesy canvas and all five clansmen paint quality pics on its surface (at the end of the record, Raekwon shouts out different types of condoms and gives us what may be the funniest adlib in hip-hop history when he says “the ribbed joints is bangin’”). This song ends with a soundbite of Rae talking about the importance of putting a sock on the pickle when it’s time to stickle.
Blood – This was originally a short interlude on Goodie Mob’s debut album, Soul Food. Goodie Mob decided to expound on the idea and turn it into a full-fledge song with the theme calling for Black unity, because “we’re all blood (related)”, and since we know that HIV can be spread through blood exchange, it loosely ties into the theme of the album, right? I like Goodie Mob, but I couldn’t get into this one. Mainly due to the instrumental, which feels like it was so focused on trying to sound pretty that it forgot to sound interesting.
I Breaks ‘Em Off – Coolio completely deviates from the subject at hand and goes off dissin’ emcees and rapping about everything but AIDS. Wino provides steady drums and a thick bass line, while Wah Wah Watson lives up to his alias and laces the track with some funky wah-wah guitar licks. Even with Coolio going completely off topic, I enjoyed this one.
Listen To Me Now – This one begins with a super funky bass guitar solo (if you close your eyes, you can actually see the strings bending as their strummed), then the drums and the rest of the musical elements come in for 8Ball & MJG to get off their bars, rhyming from the perspective of the virus: “I have no face, I have no body, I have no heart, I have no soul, I don’t care if you’re young or if you’re old, here’s my mission, I’m out to get them, those who slippin’, creepin’, while they be creepin’, I be enterin’, into them, silently, violently, that is not me, quietly, you’ll never know I’m in your bloodstream.” And that’s just the opening bars, folks. The Memphis duo proceed to spit vivid lyrics, issuing warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex and the “worldwide plague,” even making biblical references that allegedly, prophesy of AIDS coming into the world. 8Ball & MJG are one of those groups that I’ve never got around to thoroughly diggin’ into their catalog, but this record once again reminded me that I should. The song is followed by another soundbite from Raekwon.
Street Life – L.E.S. deviates from his production norm of looping up obvious r&b samples and creates a grimy and eerie musical atmosphere, punctuated by a soulfully haunting vocal loop that will leave you with goosebumps when listening to this song after midnight. Mobb Deep is joined by their comrade, A.C.D. (I have no idea what those letters stand for…come to think of it, I don’t know what L.E.S. stands for, either), as the three amigos do what Mobb Deep has pretty much done their entire rap career: talk about hood shit. P and their guest sound decent over the devilish track, but Havoc finds his pocket and locks in, as he uncharacteristically, gets off the strongest verse of the record. This song has nothing to do with AIDS (I guess you can reach and say Havoc’s line “My .44 will burn that ass like going raw with nymphos, so protect your lifestyle, rock your vest” ties it in), but regardless, this record is hard and ill (no pun intended) as shit. The song is followed by a soundbite of someone sharing their conspiracy theory about AIDS being man-made (to which I agree) and that someone is getting rich off its creation, which is also an interesting idea.
Games – Money Boss Players was a group out of The Bronx that released a few singles on a few different labels in the late nineties but were never able to establish solid footing in the rap game. For this track they recruit, Minnesota, who hooks up a dramatic stabbing loop that ironically, sounds dry, while MBP discusses fake gangstas and hustlers and sounds just as parched as the music backing them.
Check Ya Self – Ant Banks, Spice 1, Celly Cel, 187 Fac (comprised of Almon D, Den Fenn and G-Nut) and Gangsta P all come together for this Bay Area safe sex PSA. It’s kind of humorous in a not so funny way, how disrespectful the rappers on this song are to the women that allegedly infect the guys with HIV in their stories (they call them “bitches” or “hoes” no less than ten times during the song). The hook (sung by Gruve) is embarrassingly bad and so blunt that its comical. All parties involved get off pretty decent verses and I enjoyed Ant Banks’ funky synthesized backdrop that screams “serious message.” The song is followed by a Spice 1 soundbite, where he discusses Eazy-E’s demise, explaining that he always thought that Eazy would get shot, end up in the pen or “caught up in some other bullshit,” as if living a full life and dying at a ripe old age was never in the cards for Eric Wright. That’s some sad pessimistic shit.
I’ve Been Thinking – Common is joined by his homie Sean Lett (I wonder what happened to him) as the two emcees reflect on life, get introspective and rep for Chicago. No ID lays down swingy drums and places a dope slightly distorted, partially out-of-tune piano loop over them, which works as the perfect companion piece for the two Chicagoans to let their stream of consciousness flow over it. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.
Decisions – Organized Konfusion weighs in on the subject at hand. Over a melodically airy backdrop, Pharoahe Monch uses his verse to compare the object of his erection to chicken (but he makes sure to put on a “rubber glove” before he cooks), while Prince Poe shares a more intricate story about a chick named Yvette, who told him about a girl named Shante and her ex-husband who “needle pops” and… I got lost in the details of his story at that point. Even with Poe’s confusing (no pun intended) storyline, I still enjoyed this one.
The Hustle – Da Beatminerz and De La Soul join forces for this record. I’m a fan of both De La and Da Beatminerz, and while this song wasn’t terrible, it looks better on paper than it actually sounds.
What I Represent – Representing the Diggin In The Crates crew: Buckwild hooks up a beautiful soulful groove for O.C., who calls for more love and affection in hip-hop on one hand and then disses rappers on the other (“Being in the state of mass consumption in this game it’s like drugs, only quantity is run throughout, quality is walking through the valley of the reaper, true deceivers, are coming through your receivers”). Despite the mixed messaging, O sounds solid over Buckwild’s feel good instrumental, and the Q-Tip vocal sample on the hook takes care of Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post (FYI, we could have taken care of Tribe Degrees of Separation on the previous song when Trugoy shouts out Phife (rip) during his final verse, but this will suffice). The song is followed by more colorful Spice 1 commentary.
Nasty Hoes – Now this is an interesting pairing. Sadat X and Fat Joe team up to discuss the importance of protecting yourself against nasty AIDS infected hoes. Joe truly grew as an emcee after his debut album, Represent (that he himself has openly admitted he sucked on), as he steals the show with a colorful verse about a one-night stand with a chick named Sixty-Nine (who he says looks “Halle Berryish”) that he met at a club and intentionally tries to give him AIDS (I literally lol’d when I heard him end his verse by saying “Practice safe sex never flex unprotected, I don’t really got AIDS it’s just a muthafucka record”). Its too bad Diamond D didn’t provide a stronger instrumental so Joe’s verse could shine brighter.
Sport That Raincoat – Domino offers up a safe sex PSA, not to be confused with his other safe sex PSA song, titled, “Raincoat” from his self-titled debut album. D pretty much covers the same territory as his previous safe sex joint, but this one is backed with an upbeat manufactured funk instrumental instead of the smooth soulful groove that backed the former. It’s not a great record, but not bad enough to make me hit the skip button, either.
Suckas P.H. – The final song of the night features the Bay Area cult favorite, Mac Mall, who’s focused on getting paid and calling out all the suckas that player hate, hence the “P.H.” in the song title. Kevin Gardner (who also sings on the hook) and Redwine are credited with producing this semi-decent instrumental, but I wasn’t feelin’ the slang Mr. Mall was putting down over it.
It’s always cool to see rappers from both coasts and all points in between coming together to support an important cause, and there aren’t too many more important causes that effected as many lives from the black and brown communities like AIDS did at the tail end of the twentieth century (it’s also worth noting that this was done during the height of the east coast/west coast beef, when hip-hop was super territorial). What’s even more remarkable is when those rappers serve justice to the cause that untied them by giving the public quality music. America Is Dying Slowly showcases a wide array of hip-hop artists that mostly hit on the subject at hand and manage to cover the topic without sounding preachy or corny, keeping the content raw and gritty, and at times, extremely blunt. There are a few moments of lukewarmness but overall, America Is Dying Slowly is an enjoyable smorgasbord of hip-hop songs that will keep you entertained and hopefully, serve as a reminder to stay safe and protected.