Over time, Above The Law has become one of my favorite underrated and underappreciated hip-hop groups of all time. I was first introduced to the Pomona, California collective on their 1993 sophomore effort, Black Mafia Life, before going back and checking out their 1990 full-length debut album, Livin’ Like Hustlers. Black Mafia Life was dope in its own right but Livin’ Like Hustlers was absolutely brilliant. I’m still not sure why I never checked for or bought ATL’s third release, Uncle Sam’s Curse, when it came out in ‘94, but last week I found a reissued CD copy and will be doing a deep dive on it just as soon as I wrap up my 1996 reviews. But today, we’ll be discussing ATL’s fourth release, Time Will Reveal.
After releasing their first four projects on Eazy-E’s Ruthless imprint (before you go and correct me in the comments, I’m including their 1991 EP, Vocally Pimpin’ in that count), ATL would begin their short-lived relationship with Tommy Boy Records (TWR and their next album, Legends, would be released on Tommy Boy before ATL would move on to their next label home). ATL would handle all of the production on TWR and would invite a few guests to jump on a few of the album’s tracks. Compared to some of their previous projects, TWR did mediocre sells numbers, peaking at 16 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts and 80 on the Billboard Top 200.
TWR is another album I bought used a few years back and (broken record alert) have never listened to until now. Hopefully, the generic album cover photo isn’t an early indication of ATL’s fall off.
Continue to rest easy, KMG.
Intro – TWR begins with some dude named Gee on an angry rant about “punk ass bitch made muthafuckas” and Judgement Day, while bluesy instrumentation plays in the background, accompanied by lamenting notes from Dori’nda “Do/Re” Roberts.
Encore – The first actual song of the evening finds KMG and Cold 187 discussing their conversion from bonafide street hustlers to legitimate rappers, sharing a bit of their history and resumé along the way. Ms. Roberts from the “Intro” blesses the hook with her strong (though poorly enunciated) vocals, and combined with the pristine synth groove, gives the track a hood elegance that I enjoyed.
Evil That Men Do – Over a devious keyboard crafted instrumental, ATL lets us know that just because they’re veteran rappers, doesn’t mean they’ve completely abandoned their street ties. KMG and 187 take turns calling out the evil actions of others and admit to their own wicked deeds (Speaking of wicked, was KMG taking a shot at Ice Cube with his “wicked” bar (“Lookin’ for this other muthafucka, me and my gang, he wanna get wicked, he wanna take it there”)? I know ATL had beef with Dr. Dre for allegedly stealing their production sound, but I wasn’t aware of any beef they had with Cube. Hit me in the comments if you have the scoop). The fellas add some haunting vocals on the hook to reinforce the devilish deeds discussed in their bars. This was dope.
Table Dance (Skit) – This skit takes place at a strip joint named Draws Plus, which sounds more like the Sam’s Club of underwear than a name for a gentlemen’s club. Regardless, it adds nothing to the album and only exist to set up the next song…
Gorillapimpin’ – One of Above The Law’s street hustles was pimpin’, and they use this one to remind the listener that the pimp trait still runs strong through their veins. KMG and 187 are joined by E-Nuff and Kokane to boast about their gorilla pimp game (Kokane’s verse gets a little R-Kelly-esque when he talks about having sex with a seventeen-year-old groupie). Like most misogynistic songs, this one hasn’t aged well, but the sing songy hook is very catchy.
1996 – Over a dark menacing backdrop, 187 and KMG continue to straddle the line between street hustlin’ and rapping. I’m still trying to figure out who KMG’s line about the “skinny buster nigga might steal our fuckin’ sound” was aimed at. Initially, I thought it was directed at Dr. Dre for what I mentioned on “Evil That Men Do,” but Dre was far from skinny in ‘96. So, then I started leaning toward DJ Quik, since KMG’s very next line is “get draw down quick, like quick draw” and Quik was definitely a bean pole around that time. Feel free to hit me in the comments if you have more info…but I digress. This record is hard.
Killaz In The Park – This one begins with a skit that has law enforcement discovering a dead body. Then after they secure the crime scene a dreary semi-bluesy instrumental is brought in, and our hosts and MC Ren take turns exposing the listener to the dark underworld of the park, where Cold 187 brags about selling dope by the swings. Wtf? I could have done without this one.
100 Spokes – This was the lead single from TWR. Over a funky mid-tempo synth groove, laced, once again, with the soulful vocals of Ms. Roberts on the hook, 187 and KMG rap praises to the fancy tire rims they drive around Southern California with, discussing the benefits (attention from women) and the problems (potential jackers) that come with having them: (KMG) “When I bought my 100 Spokes, I bought a four-five, just for a nigga like the KM to stay alive, G to the muthafuckin’ three, but we call it the trey, built like a rock, but it’s made by Chevrolet…there’s something about them 100 Spokes when they be like dipped, whippin’ around delight women, freakin’ all the freaky bitches when they like spinnin’.” This is an intriguingly entertaining record, but I’ll always be baffled by the price we’re willing to pay to floss, and it has absolutely nothing to do with money.
Clinic 2000 – This one opens with silky instrumentation and Kokane oddly proclaiming, “I like R. Kelly, he cool,” which immediately made me think about his questionable verse on “Gorillapimpin’,” which left me sliding Mr. Kane a virtual side eye, while wondering if he and Mr. Kelly are of kindred spirits, if you know what I mean. KMG, Enuff and Daddy Cool (who sounds a little like W.C.) share the mic like the ladies they objectify in their rhymes, while Kokane and 187 add an animated hook to complete this pimp session.
My World – Our gracious hosts invite us all into a glimpse of their world, which includes flossin’, smokin’, flows, hoes and money. Pretty much everything they’ve already discussed in great detail on TWR to this point. Despite ATL’s regurgitated content, I enjoyed the smooth sophisticated funk groove (especially the piano solo at the end) and the soothing vocals of Dawn Monique on the hook.
Endonesia – If you didn’t figure it out based on the song title, this one is dedicated to ATL’s weed strand of choice. The fellas invite their homegirl, Pee Gee, to chime in on this ode to Endo, while Mike Holmes flexes his husky vocals, crooning the catchy hook. Not an original song idea or a great record, but passable.
Shout 2 The True – The fellas use this slippery smooth backdrop to reminisce about their hustlin’ days and pledge their allegiance to the streets. That’s all I got.
Playaz & Gangstas – The instrumental is pretty smooth, but everything else about it sounds just as generic as the song title reads.
City Of Angels (Remix) – The original version of this song was released on the platinum selling soundtrack for The Crow: City Of Angels in April of ‘96. ATL remixes the Tony G/Julio G originally produced track, replacing the duo’s jazzy G-Funk backdrop with a clean slow-rolling melancholic groove that 187, KMG and Frost (formerly known as Kid Frost, who you may remember for his “La Raza” record) use to highlight Los Angeles’ dark side, while throwing in a few token crow references along the way. The original mix wasn’t bad, but I enjoyed this remix a little more.
Apocalypse Now – ATL wraps TWR up with polished instrumentation that comes with wah-wah talk box vibes and a “serious bidness” aura. KMG (who cleverly starts his verse off with the famous opening words from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) and 187 remind the listener of their accomplishments and waive the ATL banner high one last time before gettin’ the fuck out of Dodge. It ain’t the end of the world, but it was a nice way to end the album on a high note.
As I mentioned in the opening of this write-up, Above The Law will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite underdog/outcast hip-hop groups. KMG’s deadpan gravelly voice, perfectly contrasting with Cold 187’s colorful flow and delivery was a pleasure to experience on their first two albums. Time Will Reveal finds the duo back to their usual antics, spitting gangsta raps, street hustler hymns and pimp propaganda. But unlike their first couple of go rounds, the bars ring a little hollow and feel stagnant, as if the underappreciation for their contribution to the game through the years finally started to affect their output. ATL captures glimpses of their former microphone magic on a few of the album’s songs, and their production, which I can best describe as a contemporary G-Funk sound, is not spectacular but still solid. TWR isn’t a terrible album, it just lacks direction and purpose.
Even with TWR being a little lackluster, I’m still looking forward to finally delving into their third release, Uncle Sam’s Curse. Hopefully, it won’t disappoint. I guess, time will reveal.
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