The Almighty RSO was a Boston-based collective made of up DJ Deff Jeff (not to be confused with the emcee and west coast transplant, Def Jef), E-Devious, MC Rock, Tony Rhome (not to be confused with Tony Romo or Tony Roma…whatever happened to that restaurant chain?), and Ray Dog aka Benzino, who you may remember from his shady Source Magazine involvement (which included he and his crew beating up some of the publication’s writers for their unflattering critique of RSO’s music, and later becoming part owner and ruining the magazine’s credibility and reputation due to his own personal biases and beefs), his feud with Eminem, or if you watch TV with your lady sometimes, like myself, you may recognize him as one of the cast members from Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. RSO, which is a double meaning acronym (Rock Shit On and Real Strong Organization, depending on which day of the week you ask them), started to bubble locally in the mid-eighties, before catching the attention of Tommy Boy Records, who would sign them to a deal. No music would be released during their Tommy Boy stretch, and shortly after signing the deal, MC Rock would be stabbed to death in a night club. After leaving Tommy Boy, RSO had a brief stint as part of Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit, which would lead to them getting a record on the 1993 Flavor Unit compilation album, Roll Wit Tha Flava. RSO would soon sign a deal with RCA, where they would drop an EP, Revenge Of Da Badd Boyz, in 1994. Like the Tommy Boy deal, the RCA one wouldn’t last long and eventually, RSO would sign with J Prince’s legendary Houston label, Rap-A-Lot Records, where they would release their debut full-length album and the subject of today’s post, Doomsday: RSO Forever.
One of the perks that comes with signing with Rap-A-Lot is having access to some of their in-house producers, and RSO would take advantage, as Crazy C (whose name you may recognize for his work with Scarface’s early output amongst others) would produce a chunk of the album’s tracks and The Hangmen 3 (which is the Boston-based production team comprised of Benzino, Jeff Two Times, and Johnny Bananas) would handle a large portion of the rest. Doomsday would also include production from a few other esteemed producers and feature a handful of special guest cameos that we’ll get into in a bit. Doomsday would produce two singles with one of them peaking at ten on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs charts, but the album failed to produce strong sells numbers. Ironically, Doomsday would mark the end of the group and RSO would be, done, forever (Benzino and E-Devious would re-emerge a few years later as part of a group called Made Men, but that experiment wouldn’t last long either).
I found a used copy of Doomsday in the dollar bins (ninety-five cents to be exact) at one of the used music spots I peruse, and when I saw some of the featured guests listed on the back of the jewel case, I figured it would be worth the gamble. Like most of my reviews in the past few months, Doomsday is another one that’ll be listening to for the first time with this post. So, let’s get into it.
Doomsday Intro – After the sound of a blunt being lit, the listener is greeted with dark cinematic chords, as Benzino welcomes us all to the album and shows love to his RSO bredrin with an overly used demonic vocal distortion placed over his voice.
Forever RSO – Benzino, Tony Rhome, and E-Devious use the first song of the evening to give a brief group bio, highlighting their ups and downs (which includes Tony getting locked up, the death of MC Rock, getting dropped from record labels, and beatin’ down writers from The Source) and pledging their allegiance to The Almighty RSO. Rap-A-Lot affiliate producer, John Bido, gets credit for the smooth southern fried instrumental (with a co-credit going to a Pee-Wee), and I absolutely love the slippery wah-wah guitar licks laced throughout the track.
The War’s On – RSO invites Mobb Deep to join them on the album’s lead single that was originally released on the Original Gangstas Soundtrack in April of the same year. Prodigy (rip) joins Benzino, E-Devious, and Tony Rhome on the mic, and of course if P is involved the record has a thug/crime theme. Havoc stays behind the boards and serves up an airy canvas with a raw melodic touch for RSO and his partner in crime to paint violent hood tales, with middling results.
Thought You Knew – After an array of guns shot ring off during the opening skit, Crazy C (with a co-production credit going to Terrance “Bearwolf” Williams) drops a smooth southern marinated groove that sounds custom made for Scarface to rhyme over (I can hear Face hittin’ it with his “I Seen A Man Die” cadence), but instead Benzino and Tony use it to exchange mediocre threats of murder.
Gotta Be A Better Way – This one finds RSO sharing more crime tales, but unlike the stories they’ve shared previously on Doomsday, this time they’re questioning their moves and contemplating finding safer and more productive means to make a living. I like the message, the shiny synthesized chords, the bangin’ bass line, and Keva’s soothing vocals on the hook make everything easier to digest.
Summer Knightz – E-Devious and his horrible-aliased guest, Tangg Da Juice, express their love and appreciation for drama free summer nights, even though the ebonicly misuse of the word “Knightz” in the song title might lead you to believe this is an ode to medieval warriors in iron body armor battling in June and August). The Hangmen 3 back up the duo’s sufficient bars with a sparkling instrumental built around a loop from The Isley Brothers’ classic, “Voyage To Atlantis” and some West Coast siren notes, making for an overly polished, but decent record.
Sanity – The SOS Band’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” had to have been the most sampled record in hip-hop in 1996, as I’ve already mentioned it at least four times in my write-ups for the year. Well, make this the fifth, as The Hangmen 3 loop it up once again to soundtrack this song. RSO uses the bubbly backdrop to discuss how mentally taxing the street life can get, years before mental health would become a sexy subject. Our hosts invite D-Ruff to drive home the struggle with his husky crooning, and I actually enjoyed this one.
You’ll Never Know – After a short snippet plays from the mob movie, Miller’s Crossing, Crazy C chefs up some dark deranged gumbo that RSO uses to let the listener, and any would be rivals know that they’re ready for and welcoming of all smoke, while Mad Lion drops in to co-sign for his “hell bound” friends with a little raspy Dancehall chant towards the end of the record. Interestingly and somewhat annoyingly, all of RSO’s curses are censored on this record, which I’m sure had to do with sample clearance. Overall, a decent album cut.
You Could Be My Boo – This was the second single from Doomsday. The song opens with a skit that finds E-Devious calling his girl, excuse me, boo, and telling her to get rid of the work he stashed under her bed the night before, as word on the street is there’s a snitch trying to get him knocked. Then a soft R&B radio friendly instrumental drops (which sounds nothing like something Crazy C would produce), accompanied by Faith Evans’ vocals on the adlibs and hook, as E goes on a dolo mission, listing a plethora of reasons why he loves and appreciates his boo: “When you around my niggas everything be like, what up? You know when to talk and you know when to shut up, you aint scared of guns, and you know how to use it, you love Rap City, and you love rap music, and when we fight, you go for yours, you don’t be duckin’, you so wild, you smoke a blunt while we fuckin’, you hate the cops with a passion, you like one of my niggas, but in a female fashion.” I’m not usually a fan of these bubble gum radio formulated records, and Faith Evans sounds like she mailed her performance in, but E-Devious’ unintentionally humorous rhymes delivered in his “dead ass serious” tone, kept me entertained.
Mix Of Action – The Hangmen 3 build this darkly tinted boom-bap production around a slick Roy Ayers loop, while DJ Deff Jeff adds Premo-esque cuts to the track, and Benzino, E, and Tony boast of their addiction to stay in the mist of hood drama. Speaking of addiction, I’m hooked on this instrumental.
Keep Alive – This one begins with a clip from A Bronx Tale, then RSO and their guest, Cool Gsus, use this one to remind all the street hustlers to move wisely while they’re out there doing their dirt. E-Devious gets off what might be the best bars on the album with: “And to my niggas doing crime in the hood, on the heels of the O.J. verdict, it don’t look good, if it don’t fit, you must acquit, but for niggas like you and me, that’s a bunch of bullshit, when we workin’ with some public counsel imitators, we can’t afford no Dream Team litigators.” The underappreciated Kay Gee from Naughty By Nature, provides a creamy reflective groove to support our hosts’ hood advice.
Illicit Activity – Now here’s an unlikely pairing. Memphis’ very own, 8Ball & MJG join forces with E, Benzino, and Tony, as each party gets a turn to talk his shit. E reps RSO the strongest, contributing solid bars, but 8Ball & MJG steal the show, sounding right at home as they flaunt their southern flavor over the West Coast G-Funkish backdrop, courtesy of Smoke One Productions. This was dope, and yet another reminder that I’ve got to check out 8Ball & MJG’s catalog.
Killin’ ‘Em – Tony Rhome gets a solo joint. Crazy C and DJ Storm throw him a sneaky bell heavy mid-tempo beat that finds our host screaming very forgettable bars. The instrumental was decent, but there’s really no reason to listen to this one more than once.
One In Tha Chamba – RSO offers up a revolutionary response to police brutality: firing back at the bastards. The Hangmen 3 build the instrumental around a familiar but always welcomed Blackbyrds loop (see Kurious’ “I’m Kurious” and Paris’ “Days Of Old”), as RSO is joined by M.O.P and Smif-N-Wessun (who were forced to change their group name to Cocoa Brovaz at the time due to trademark issues) to bust shots back at the power abusive pigs. Rest in peace to George Floyd and Tyre Nichols.
Quarter Past Nine – Like mogwai turn into gremlin if fed after midnight and Cinderella’s magical spell ends at 12am, apparently, RSO turns into blood thirsty diabolical killers as soon as the clock strikes 9:15pm (is that eastern standard time or central?). The fellas invite Cool Gsus, M3 and the reggae stylings of (what might be the greatest alias of all time) Fuckamon, while a female vocalist simply credited as Courtney, adds harmony on the hook to accompany RSO’s flying bullets. The content wasn’t riveting, but the instrumental is hard.
We’ll Remember You – RSO closes out Doomsday with a soulfully pensive Doc Doom/Mad House concoction, as Zino, E, and Tony reflect and reminisce about the comrades they’ve lost to the streets and prison, which also includes a shoutout to the late group member, MC Rock. It’s hard to mess up these types of dedication songs, and this one goes down rather smoothly.
I’ll be honest. Going into this review, I had very low expectations for Doomsday: Forever RSO. Mainly due to Benzino and all of his cornball antics through the years, plus their “Badd Boyz” record from the Roll Wit Tha Flava compilation album wasn’t all that impressive. But after several listens to the album over the past three weeks, surprisingly, Doomsday doesn’t sound nearly as bad as I expected it to.
E-Devious proves to be the strongest of the crew on the mic, while Benzino and Tony Rhome offer meager rhyming throughout Doomsday. But even with E’s efficient skills, collectively, RSO’s gangsta/street life themes ring hollow and pale in comparison with some of their more talented contemporaries who drive in the same thug lane. Thankfully, RSO was wise enough to spread around enough great guest cameos on the album to keep things flowing even when their own flows stall. More than anything, it’s the production on Doomsday that brings the album respectability. Led by Crazy C and The Hangmen 3 behind the boards, Doomsday tantalizes the listener’s ear with southern fried slaps, traditional East Coast boom bap, West Coast synth, and a little polished pop R&B flavor thrown in to appeal to the masses. Doomsday has no musical cohesion, but variety is the spice of life, and there are plenty of tasty spices sprinkled into this sonic smorgasbord.
Doomsday is not a classic and will never be found on anyone’s “Must Hear Before You Die” list, but it comes with some entertainment value. Well worth the ninety-five cents I paid for admission.
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