Black Sheep – Non-Fiction (December 6, 1994)

First things first, I’d be remiss not to say rest in peace to the NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, his daughter and all the other victims of Sunday’s tragedy. Please pray for their families in this time of sorrow. 

If you read this blog with any regularity than you already know how I feel about the Native Tongue posse, and 1991 was quite the year for my favorite hip-hop collective. In May, De La Soul released their darker than expected, highly respected sophomore effort, De La Soul Is Dead and in September A Tribe Called Quest would drop an undisputed classic in The Low End Theory. October of 1991 would bring the debut album for the newest members of the Native Tongue, Black Sheep. A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing would go on to earn Dres and Mista Lawnge a gold plaque and produce a massive hit that 25 years later is still referenced in tv commercials (see “Choice Is Yours”). After A Wolf’s success, the Sheep would take a three year hiatus and return at the end of 1994 with their sophomore effort Non-Fiction.

Mista Lawnge and Dres would keep the production in-house, as they’re credited with producing the entire album, with “additional production and remix” (not sure what that means, but whatever) from the underappreciated Salaam Remi. Non-Fiction didn’t come with any radio hits, nor was it as commercially successful as its predecessor. It received mix reviews from the critics, and more importantly, the hip-hop community.

Let’s revisit Non-Fiction and see how it holds up 25 years after its release.

Non-Fiction Intro – The album opens with an airy instrumental, dripping with good vibes and seriousness, as Brother Arthur from the Nation of Islam welcomes the listener to Non-Fiction and attempts to explain the meaning of Black Sheep. He kind of sounds like Damon Wayans’ Oswald Bates character from In Living Color in the process, but whatever.

Autobiographical – Over a dope mid-tempo jazzy backdrop, Dres shares his upbringing, including his relocation from New York to North Carolina, and back to New York again. He also talks about the mischief he got into as a kid, which includes his attempts to be a street pharmacist. The fresh instrumental works beautifully with Dres’ brilliantly executed autobiography. This may be my favorite song in Black Sheep’s limited catalog.

B.B.S. – The song opens with a warm horn loop, before the beat drops and a slick Sonny Phillips’ loop comes in. Dres uses it to talk shit in his own unique eloquent way, and Emage sings the hook (which explains the acronym used for the song title) in her cool vocal tone.

City Lights – Black Sheep picks up the energy a bit with this one. The fellas combine a nasty bass line, with stabbing horns and hard drums, as Lawnge get his first bars off of the evening. He doesn’t embarrass himself during his two verses, but it takes Dres just one verse to show why he is the main emcee of the group.

Do Your Thing – This is the first blah moment of the evening. Dres doesn’t sound bad, and he actually drops some solid rhymes, but the instrumental is too bland to swallow. Did they sample a cow bell?

E.F.F.E.C.T. – Lawnge and Dres invite Showbiz & A.G. to join them on this one. A.G., Lawnge and Dres each spit a verse, while Showbiz is left to help out with the hook and supply the adlibs (and even though the liner notes don’t credit him, I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s responsible for the instrumental as well). The results are horrible. No one spits a strong verse, the hook is corny and the instrumental is terrible.

Freak Y’all – Chi-Ali makes a brief cameo as he introduces the song. Then the thick bass line and ill drum roll drops and Dres proceeds to murder the beat, and he spits one of my favorite Dres lines: “I stomp for reason not for feeling, cause one man’s floor is another man’s ceiling”.  This one sounds just as good today as it did 25 years ago.

Gotta Get Up – Decent filler material.

Let’s Get Cozy – Mista Lawnge and Dres pick up with the misogynistic energy they left off with on A Wolf”s “Le Menage” with this one, as the two take turns sharing their freaky tales over a dope low-key instrumental. It would have been a nice change of pace to hear Too Short pop-up and add a third verse, but whatever.

Me & My Brother – More decent filler material.

North South East West – Dres and Lawnge don’t really have much to say on this one, but the heavy drums and slick guitar licks sound great.

Peace To The Niggas – Dres and Lawnge use this one to shout out their peeps and as a call for brothers to come together in peace and unity. I absolutely love the moody bass lines on this one, as they give the song a semi-dark feel. Mista Lawnge shouts out the Native Tongue at the end of the song, which of course includes A Tribe Called Quest, so that covers Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Summa Tha Time – This one feels like Black Sheep may have been aiming for a crossover hit, as the instrumental has a bit of a r&b feel, plus they invite Emage and Michelle Valentine to sing the hook and adlibs. If crossover success was the intent, it didn’t work, but I dig the song.

We Boys – All three members of The Legion join Lawnge and Dres on this cipher joint. I like the sporadic drum roll solos in the instrumental and Molecules’ bully rap energy. But Dres is the true star of this one, as he shuts shit down with the song’s final verse.

Who’s Next? – Dres and Lawnge each spit a verse about a promiscuous woman that’s been around, and ran through, by the block over a creamy smooth backdrop complete with a slick horn loop. Sweet T (remember her?) pops up to offer a rebuttal from the female’s perspective, which is a nice added touch to the song. This was dope.

Without A Doubt – This was the lead single from Non-Fiction. The fellas turn a rarely used Isley Brothers sample into a calm and breezy backdrop, as Dres and Mista Lawnge pass the microphone back and forth like a hot potato. Or as Lawnge so eloquently puts it: “Catch wreck like fat people breakin’ wind”.

Non-Fiction Outro – Black Sheep brings back the same instrumental from the intro along with Brother Arthur, who shares some parting words, bringing Non-Fiction to a close.

From the production to the content, Non-Fiction is a more mature project than A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. The instrumentals are cleaner, crispier and more polished. Dres and Mista Lawnge tone down the misogyny, spitting more meaningful bars with black consciousness undertones (well at least Dres does), and even the album cover, donning two black sheep in a library (which I feel is symbolic for the duo’s desire for knowledge and truth), shows depth. But don’t confuse maturity for superiority. Non-Fiction comes with a handful of mediocre moments and three or four skippable songs, and with a 17 song track count and 75 minute runtime, it becomes a bit too much to chew on. Non-Fiction is a decent sophomore effort from the Queens/Brooklyn duo, but not nearly as consistent or entertaining as its predecessor, and easily forgotten in a heavy hitting hip-hop year like 1994.

-Deedub

 

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Da Bush Babees – Ambushed (December 6, 1994)

Da Bush Babees are definitely one of the more obscure groups in hip-hop history. I don’t know a whole lot about them, and there really isn’t a ton of information about the group on the web, either. I do know that the Brooklyn based trio of Mr. Man, Bae-B-Face Kaos and the Raggamuffin Rudeboy, Y-Tee once upon a time in the nineties released 2 albums. The last one, Gravity, in 1996, and their 1994 debut album Ambushed, which happens to be the subject of today’s post.

Legend has it that the original version of Ambushed was scrapped after it sat for 6 months to year after it was recorded. Once Da Bush Babees got their label issues straighten out, they decided to fine tune the album, as they felt so much time had passed that most of the material sounded dated. I’m not sure what songs from the original version of Ambushed made the final cut or which songs were added, but I’m sure there’s a copy of the O.G. version floating around somewhere. Ambushed produced a few singles that made some minor noise, but the album didn’t sell well and received very little fanfare upon its release.

I haven’t listened to Ambushed in its entirety since it came out back in ’94, and other than the lead single (which was the sole reason I bought the album), I don’t remember much about the album. And that normally doesn’t bode well on this blog.

IntroAmbushed opens with this short intro of babies crying in the jungle, thus introducing the listeners to Da Bush Babees.

Pon De Attack – Right out the gate Mr. Man and Bae-B-Face Kaos come out screaming over a decent J.P. instrumental and sound like a cross between Onyx and Pharcyde, circa the Bizarre Ride era. Y-Tee even screams his chants, making it twice as hard to understand what the hell he’s saying.

Put It Down – Jermaine Dupri gets his first production credit of the evening on this one. Y-Tee sounds nice chanting over the solid instrumental, but Mr. Man and Kaos’ gimmicky screaming is giving me a headache two songs into the album.

Soundclash – Super short interlude/skit.

Original – Mark Batson slides the trio a slick reggae-tinged groove to rock over. Of course, Y-Tee sounds right at home chanting over it, and Mr. Man and Kaos even sound pretty nice spittin’ on it. Well done, fellas.

Rudeboy’s Arrivin’ – A short interlude that features Y-Tee chanting over a simple beatbox.

Ruff N’ Rugged – I like the jazzy vibes in Nikke Nikole’s instrumental, and Y-Tee’s reggae flavored hook is a nice added touch. Kaos and Mr. Man deliver some clever punch lines and manage to keep the yelling to a reasonable level.

On Da Radio – This might be the shortest interlude/skit in the history of hip-hop.

Just Can’t Stand It – Mr. Man sits this one out and lets Kaos and Y-Tee hold it down. Kaos shows and proves he can spit substance, as he delivers two solid verses about the mistreatment of the black man in America: “So they shot Martin Luther King, beat Rodney King, I used to be a king, now I work at Burger King”. I have no idea what Y-Tee is chanting about, but the true star of this song is Salaam Remi’s creamy instrumental.

Da Ignorant No It All – Kaos invites his friend Mellow E aka Da Ignorant No It All, to join him on this one. Kaos screams spits a few bars then gets out the way for his guest to spit a verse over a solid instrumental that sounds like something JD may have created (the liner notes don’t list credits for this song). I wasn’t crazy about the verse, but it wasn’t terrible.

Hit ‘Em Up – Da Bush Babees invite their buddy, II Unorthodox to join them on this one, as they give us their version of horrorcore and it comes off very gimmicky and contrived. Nikke Nikole’s dark instrumental is dope, but this farce sounds way too forced.

We Run Things (It’s Like Dat) – This was the first single released from Ambushed and the only song I remember from the album. Ali Shaheed Muhammad slides the trio a slick instrumental (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) and Mr. Man and Kaos actually do it justice. When the two emcees tone down their delivery and just rhyme, they prove to be a formidable duo on the mic. I wasn’t feeling Y-Tee’s verse, but he still doesn’t mess up this groove.

Get On Down – JD gets his second and final production credit on Ambushed, and he turns in a decent instrumental. Da Bush Babees don’t really have much to say on it, just more unwarranted high volume party rhymes.

Remember We – I believe this was the second single from Ambushed. Da Bush Babees reminisce on the time before they had a record deal. Kaos and Mr. Man calm down a bit and sound nice flowing in pocket over J.P.’s funky mid-tempo groove (the production credit goes to J.P. but it’s the live piano and bass play, brought you courtesy of Leo Colon, that puts the funk in the groove). Y-Tee is left to hold down hook duties on this one, and it works out well, as he delivers a catchy refrain.

Bleu Buttaflyze – Short useless skit.

Clear My Throat – J.P. slides DBB a nasty backdrop with a clever Big Daddy Kane vocal sample on the hook. Y-Tee sits this out and lets Mr. Man and Kaos do their thing. This is one of the few times on Ambushed that the duo’s over the top energy matches up nicely with the production.

Ya Mammy – One last useless skit.

Swing It (Jazziness) – The final song of the evening finds the trio continuing in their screaming ways. J.P.’s up tempo jazzy instrumental is pretty dope, but the over the top yelling is just too much to swallow.

For most of Ambushed Da Bush Babees sound like Gilbert Godfrey over hip-hop beats. Well, at least Kaos and Mr. Man do. Y-Tee’s reggae styling sounds out of place for much of the album when paired with his screaming comrades. The production (which features work from some well-respected producers) is pretty solid throughout the album, but it’s, um, ambushed by the trio’s screaming and lack of substance, which leaves the project sounding like one loud freestyle littered with a misplaced reggae nigga.

On “Original”, Bae-B-Face Kaos says, if Da Bush Babees don’t blow up then their record label failed them. Maybe you can place blame on Reprise for the promotion of Ambushed, but the group has to assume responsibility for the album’s mishaps.

-Deedub

 

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Redman – Dare Iz A Darkside (November 22, 1994)

Redman made quite the impression in ’92 with his debut album Whut? Thee Album. Not only was it a commercial success earning Redman his first gold plaque, but he also earned respect and love from the streets for his colorfully animated style balanced with a hardcore edge. He would return at the end of ’94 with his second release, Dare Iz A Darkside.

Redman handles most of the production work on Darkside, with a few assists from Erick Sermon and Rockwilder. The album didn’t produce any huge hits, but it did receive favorable reviews and would go on to be Redman’s second consecutive gold selling album. I haven’t listened to Darkside in years, and honestly, I don’t remember much about it. So, let’s see how this goes.

Side note: The artwork for Dare Iz A Darkside pays homage to Funkadelic’s 1971 album, Maggot Brain.

Dr. TrevisDare Iz A Darkside begins with one of Redman’s many alter egos, Dr. Trevis, telling Redman to “fall into a deep mind of emotion” (whatever the hell that means) and encourages him to forget what he did on Whut? Thee Album and “take the funk to where it has never gone” on Darkside. Then just before the intro ends, Trevis loses his cool and calls Redman a “son of a bitch”, which makes me lol every time I hear it.

Bobyahed2dis – For the first actual song of the evening, Redman and Rockwilder hook up a dope funk instrumental that Red uses to prove that you “don’t have to be Special Ed to get dumb”.

Journey Throo Da Darkside – Redman gets credit for this instrumental, with a co-production credit going to Erick Sermon, and the track sounds like an incomplete idea from an old EPMD album, circa 1992. Not even Redman’s antics and animation on the mic can make this one go down smoother.

Da Journee – Dr. Trevis returns for the intro of this song, and he must have gave Redman a sedative, because he sounds super calm compared to what he normally sounds like on the mic. His rhymes also sound darker than normal as he spews bars like “I go far beyond acting hard and pulling triggers, I just want to die and come back as the Nile on the River… zonin’ ’til I forget how to wake up in the morning, and the corners of my mouth be like foamin’ when I’m open”. Speaking of Niles and rivers, Redman’s instrumental is as plain as water. Thankfully, this song is only one verse long.

A Million And 1 Buddah Spots – Erick Sermon steps back in to help bring some energy back to the Darkside, as he slides Red a funk banger with a nasty bass line. Redman uses it to discuss his favorite pastime, which I’m sure you guys are smart enough to figure out what that is.

Noorotic – Rockwilder gets his second production credit of the evening (with a co-production credit going to Redman) and it’s actually a nice little groove. Reggie’s in full Redman character mode, spittin’ his “irrelevant shit” and makes it sound so entertaining.

Boodah Session – Short interlude.

Cosmic Slop – The Def Squad is back in effect, as Keith Murray and Erick Sermon join Red on this posse joint, whose title pays homage to one of Funkadelic’s albums. Redman’s backdrop (with an assist credit given to E-Double) is decent at best and no one spits an incredible verse, rendering this cipher record as forgettable.

Rockafella (R.I.P.) – Redman lets a part of a verse from his deceased comrade, Rockafella play, which must have been taken from one of his demos. The dude could spit. He sounds a lot like Parrish Smith.

RockaFella – This was Darkside’s lead single. Even though the lyrics have nothing to do with Redman’s fallen friend (beside the quick shout out he gives him at the end of his first verse), he names it after him. Redman’s instrumental is dope, but his rhymes don’t go outside of the same nonsense he’s been talking about the entire album up to this point (he does give Q-Tip a shout out during his third verse, so there’s a Tribe Degrees of Separation for ya). Despite Redman’s annoying Chipmunk voice on the hook and adlibs, this is still a solid song.

Green Island – Redman is joined by two more of his many personalities, Reggie Noble (his government) and Uncle Quilly, and all three spit zany animated rhymes, with Unc Quilly being the most outrageous. The clowning is cute, but Redman’s Hawaiian flavored instrumental is sick.

Basically – Redman’s backdrop has a hypnotic quality and it feels just as serene as it does melancholy, and I love it. It’s a little more subdued than what we’re accustom to hearing Red spit over, but he handles it well.

Can’t Wait – This was the second single from Darkside. E-Double (with a co-production credit going to Red) takes the drums from The Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” and throws a slick Bob James loop over them, turning the combo into a brilliantly smooth backdrop, but still rough enough for Redman to get loose on.

Winicumuhround – Erick Sermon follows up his dope production work on the previous track with this dud.

Wuditlooklike – This was absolutely horrendous.

Slide And Rock On – Redman leads the listener to believe that this might be a serious record, as he kicks it off by saying:”Yo, this blunt is for all the niggas that was in the holding pen with me in Central Booking…welcome to the system”. Then Redman’s dreadful instrumental drops (which features about four overly used loops that you’ve all heard a thousand times before) and he continues to spew random nonsense over it. He does use the second verse to talk about his youth and how dabbling in the streets got him a short stint in jail. It was cool to hear him share pieces of Reggie Noble’s life, but the song is still trash.

Sooperman Luva II – Redman’s “Sooperman Luva” series is what the “Jane” series is to EPMD albums. Our host lays another smooth backdrop for part deux, as he shares an outrageous tale of his run in with a lady that doesn’t end well for the lady…or the rest of her “Martian bitch” crew. Wait…did Red just say he fucked Rosie the robot from the Jetsons? Redman’s rhymes sound kind of sloppy, but the song will still make you chuckle a few times and keep you mildly entertained, at least for the first few listens.

We Run N.Y. – We last heard from Erick Sermon’s baby mama, Hurricane G on Keith Murray’s debut album (see “Bom Bom Zee”). She resurfaces on this track, as she and Redman each spit a verse over the hard backdrop. Am I the only one who felt that Hurricane G was complete trash on the mic? Thankfully, Redman’s verse matches the energy of his instrumental (I love the KRS-One vocal snippet on the hook) and turns this into a solid record.

Dr. Trevis (Signs Off) – After a wicked laugh and an annoying bell that rings for a minute and some change, Dr. Trevis returns to thank the listener for purchasing the album on behalf of the “notty-headed nigga” (aka Redman) and the Def Squad Force. Then a wonderfully smooth-feel good instrumental plays for about 10 seconds and you’re left wishing they would have let it rock for another minute or so. I enjoyed it so much back in the day that I ghetto looped it on my dual cassette player, just to extend the audio orgasm.

Tonight’s Da Nite (Remix) – Our host not only changes the beat on this remix (the original was on Whut? Thee Album), but all the lyrics as well. I’m not sure why he calls it a remix, as it really has no connection with the original. Regardless, the song is trash.

In a 2010 interview with Vibe Magazine, when Redman was asked about Dare Iz A Darkside, he said “I swear, I have not played Dare Iz A Darkside damn near since I did it. Seriously! I was so lost, I was so fucked up during that album.” “Lost” and “fucked up” are fitting adjectives to describe how Redman sounds on Dare Iz A Darkside. Not only does he sound unfocused on the mic, but most of his production sounds sloppy and uninspired. There are a handful of dope songs on Darkside, but the majority of it is lackluster. And at twenty tracks, that much lackluster adds up to a disappointing album.

-Deedub

 

 

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Method Man – Tical (November 15, 1994)

The Wu-Tang Clan took the world by storm in 1993 with the release of their classic debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (which also shares the same release date with my second favorite album of all-time, Midnight Marauders…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Rza’s dark and grimy Kung-Fu flick influenced production combined with the personalities and unique styles of 9 different emcees made for a nearly flawless and undeniable classic debut album from the Staten Island (aka Shaolin) collective, that would go on to earn a platinum plaque and as of this write up, is more than three times platinum. It was only a matter of time before labels would be looking to sign the standout group members to solo deals. The first to emerge from the pack would be Method Man, who would sign with Def Jam and release his debut album Tical at the close of 1994.

Method would call on Rza to produce the entire album, cause if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Tical would receive favorable reviews, produce some pretty big singles, one which would win a Grammy (more on that in a bit), and would earn Meth his first solo platinum plaque.

I didn’t care much for Tical when it came out and haven’t really checked for since. Let’s see how it sounds today.

Tical – After a short intro and some signature Wu-Tang Kung-Fu flick vocal snippets, the Rza starts the evening with a dark and moody instrumental. Method Man’s raspy voice and grimy flow match Rza’s gloominess to perfection. This shit is dope and would make for great horror movie music.

Biscuits – Rza’s instrumental sounds very Casio keyboardish, but it may be the dopest Casio keyboard beat every created. Rza lays the melodic chords over rough drums and a wailing female vocal loop, maintaining the dim energy he created on the previous track. This record’s in need of a mean remixing, as Meth’s rhymes are almost drowned out by the music (I love the Bishop from Juice quote in his opening bars), but it’s still sick. This one sounds way better than I remember it sounding back in the day.

Bring The Pain – This was the lead single from Tical. Rza builds the backdrop around a simple drum beat and a soulful moaning male vocal loop and turns it into a banger. Method’s composed and methodic flow is the cherry on top of this yummy dessert: “I came to bring the pain, hardcore from the brain, let’s go inside my astral plane, find out my mental, based on instrumental, records (hey), so I can write monumental, methods, I’m not the King, but niggas is decaf, I stick ’em for the CREAM”. Classic.

All I Need – This was the third single released from Tical. Rza pulls the Casio back out and interpolates a few chords from the classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet “You’re All I Need” and adds some heavy drums and a few cuts to roughing it up a bit. Method Man uses it to rap directly to his lady about his love and appreciation for her: “There are a few things that’s forever, my lady, we can make war or make babies, back when I was nothing, you made a brother feel like he was something, that’s why I’m with you ’til this day boo no frontin’, even when the skies were grey, you would rub me on my back and say “baby it’ll be okay”, and that’s real to a brother like me baby, never ever give my pussy away and keep it tight, alright?” Of course it would be Rza’s “Razor Sharp Mix” remix featuring Mary J Blige that would make the song a hit and earn Mary and Meth a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1996, as well as propel the single and ultimately the album, to platinum status (side note: there is also a solid Puff Daddy remix, but it has nothing on Rza’s). The remix murders the O.G mix, but the rawness of the original is more cohesive with the rest of Tical.

What The Blood Clot – This is one that I never really got into back in the day. Rza’s instrumental still sounds a little dry, but Meth’s flow makes it sound better than it really is. Plus, its only one verse.

Meth Vs. Chef – Ah, yes. I’ll never forget looking at the track listing on the insert of the cassette version of Tical for the first time back in the day and finding this song listed. Method Man battling Raekwon? Wow! This has to be epic. Well, it wasn’t. Rza’s instrumental is mediocre and so are Meth and Rae’s verses, but if I had to pick a winner I’d go with Meth, mainly due to the fact that Rae stumbles halfway through his verse before regathering himself. Time hasn’t changed my feelings about this one.

Sub Crazy – I love this song title, by the way. Rza’s drum claps and sinister chords have an uncomfortable and urgent feel, which is what I’m sure he was going for. Meth completely annihilates the instrumental with his grimy flow and tough guy shit talk. Dope way to end side 1 of Tical, if you’re listening on cassette.

Release Yo’ Delf – The song opens with Blue Raspberry singing an accapella ghetto interpolation of the first few bars of Gloria Gaynor’s classic “I Will Survive”, which is also this song’s hook. Rza then drops the hard drums and the battle ready horn loop, putting the battery in our host’s back. Speaking of battle, Meth seems to be at war with the music that almost drowns out his raspy vocal, but somehow he prevails and the track winds up victorious.

P.L.O. Style – Meth invites his buddy Carlton Fisk to join him on the mic (not to be confused with the former MLB catcher/Hall of Famer; but it would be pretty funny to hear the O.G. Carlton Fisk grabbing the mic and spittin’ a verse), as the two bounce off each other and actually have good chemistry. Rza’s dusty backdrop has a slight funk feel and sounds way better than I remember it sounding back in the day, and the catchy hook is bound to get stuck in your head after a few listens.

I Get My Thang In Action – Rza keeps its gutter with this grimy track, and Method matches it’s gulliness with his sewer flow. I love the tribalish drums Rza brings in at the end of the song.

Mr. Sandman – This is the only true cipher joint on Tical. Meth, Rza, Inspectah Deck, Street Thug (which might be the most generic rap alias of all time) and Carlton Fisk each spit a verse over a Rza instrumental that is definitely an acquired taste. But the annoying high-pitched female vocal loop on the hook will never sound delicious to these ears.

Stimulation – Here’s another one I slept on back in the day. Rza hooks up an ill Sarah Vaughan loop and makes the melodic sample sound dark and heavenly at the same time.
This shit just gave me goosebumps. Blue Raspberry drops in again to sing the hook and Rza throws in a dope horn loop, which are both nice added touches. Method does his thing on the mic, of course, but Rza’s brilliant backdrop is the star of this one.

Method Man (Remix) – This remix has nothing on the original, but you can definitely hear the growth in Meth’s flow compared to the O.G. version. And his line “you ain’t got no wins in mi casa” would go on to be recycled by several emcees, including some of your favorites (see Big Pun’s “Wrong Ones” and Nas’ “Made You Look”).

When Tical came out back in ’94, I wasn’t a fan. There were a handful of songs I could get with, but I found the majority of Rza’s production dry and bland. Time has definitely been kind to Tical. 25 years later, most of Rza’s dark, dirty and gutter production work sounds great behind Method Man, whose flow and ability to adapt to any beat have always been his strongest attributes, and he sounds comfy and right at home rhyming over them. Tical may not be a classic or stand up to some of the other Wu-Tang member’s solo debuts, but it’s a solid debut from Method Man that has definitely earned my respect.

-Deedub

 

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Keith Murray – The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (November 8, 1994)

I hope you all are enjoying your holiday season! This will be my last post for 2019. As 2020 begins, I’ll be “rapping” up 1994 and start revisiting the year that was 1995. Thanks for rocking with me, folks, and I wish you all a Happy New Year!!

Most people became familiar with Keith Murray from his cameo appearance on Erick Sermon’s 1993 single “Hostile”. Who will ever forget Keith “damaging your medulla, cerebrum and cerebellum, you got a crew you better tell ’em”? That impressive verse, along with his affiliation with Erick Sermon, would help the Long Island emcee get a deal with Jive where he would release his debut album, whose title comes from a line from his “Hostile” verse, The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World.

With the exception of a few songs, Keith would let Erick Sermon produce all of The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (I’ll only refer to that long ass title as TMBTITW from here on out). The album received favorable reviews and would go on to earn Keith a gold plaque. I haven’t listened to this album in over 20 years, but I don’t remember being crazy about it.

Let’s see if time has been kind to TMBTITW.

Live From New York – This intro features a standard Erick Sermon instrumental that Keith Murray uses to introduce himself and welcomes the listener to the album, in his own unique thugged-out way.

Sychosymatic – Credit the misspelling of “psychosomatic” to Keith Murray. E-Double lays down a raw and dusty boom-bap backdrop that screams East Coast that our host uses to let his ill vocabulary run wild over.

Dip Dip Di – Keith Murray continues to let his “vocabulation” spew over a subdued but solid instrumental (production credit going to Rod “K.P.” Kirkpatrick, with a co-production credit going to E-Double).

The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World – This was the lead single from TMBTITW. E-Double builds the instrumental around a muted interpolation of The Isley Brothers’ classic “Between The Sheets”. The muted quality gives the backdrop a rough feel, but you can still hear the melodic vibes flowing through it. Speaking of flowing, Keith breezes through E-Double’s smooth instrumental with ease: “For eternity, through infinity, I internally…get in ya”. This one sounds just as good today as it did 25 years ago.

Herb Is Pumpin – Erick Sermon lays down a frantic paced instrumental with a sneaky bass line that suits Keith Murray’s raspy vocal and unique rhyme style, perfectly.

Sychoward – This skit sets up the next song…

Straight Loonie – Erick Sermon and Jamal (formerly one-half of the teen duo, Illegal) join Keith on this cipher joint. All three emcees do their best Onyx impersonation, screaming their way through their verses, and the grimy gimmick fails miserably. E-Double’s stripped down production work sounds empty and boring, adding salt to the open wound.

Danger – Decent filler material.

Get Lifted – What would a nineties hip-hop album be without an ode to weed? Keith checks that box with this one, as he raps praises to the herbal essence over E-Double’s pimp strut inducing backdrop.

How’s That – The Def Squad reunites for this cipher joint. The Green-eyed bandit and Redman join Keith on the mic, as they each spit a verse over a solid Erick Sermon instrumental. It’s not a classic posse cut, but it’s decent, enough.

The Chase – A short interlude that I assume is to set up the next song…

Take It To The Streets – Keith keeps the cipher joints coming. This time he invites his Legion of Doom bredrin (aka LOD), 50 Grand and Ron Jay, to share the mic. Keith easily out rhymes his buddies (even though Ron Jay’s voice and style sound a lot like Keith’s), but everything about this song is dry and drab. Including Erick Sermon’s instrumental that sounds like a scrapped Rza beat.

Bom Bom Zee – Erick Sermon’s baby mama, Hurricane G joins Keith Murray on this duet, as they each spit a verse, while Paul Hightower sprinkles his vocal flavorings all over the track. I didn’t care much for this one back in the day, but it actually sounds decent 25 years later.

Countdown – Interlude that sets up the next song…

Escapism – On this one Keith spins an out of this world tale…literally. Our host gets so high that he’s transported to Mars where he runs into some aliens, makes one of their brains explode with his “hypercritical form of words”, and finally makes peace (with the peace pipe) with the aliens before returning to planet earth. Yeah, it’s pretty quirky, but I love the weirdness and originality of it. Redman gets his only production credit of the evening and cooks up a solid backdrop, and if you listen to it through quality headphones, you’ll hear some ill chords that you may miss when listening through standard speakers.

The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (Green-Eyed Remix) – This extremely dry and dull remix strips every drop of life and energy out of the original version. There is absolutely no reason to listen to this one more than once.

Keith Murray is definitely one of the more colorful lyricist in hip-hop history. The self-proclaimed “lyric lunatic” shows off his radiant “vocabulation” throughout The Most Beautifulest Thing In This World. I’ve mentioned several times in the past that I’m not crazy about most of Erick Sermon’s solo production work, but he actually does a decent job on this album. Most of E-Double’s backdrops work as solid canvases for Keith’s raspy vocal and animated rhymes. There are a few duds and a few great moments, but most of TMBTITW falls somewhere in between the two, ultimately rendering Keith Murray’s debut a decent album, but easily forgotten in a year stacked with superior records.

-Deedub

 

 

 

 

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Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – The Main Ingredient (November 8, 1994)

Pete Rock & CL Smooth made quite the impression with their 1992 debut full-length release Mecca & The Soul Brother. The album showcased the undeniable chemistry between CL’s slick rhyming ability and Pete Rock’s jazzy production style, and while it wasn’t a commercial success, it was a critical darling that many consider to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time (The Source also included it on their 1998 list of the Top 100 Rap Albums of All-Time). It also gave us, arguably, the greatest hip-hop song of all time in “T.R.O.Y.”. The Mount Vernon duo would return two years later with their sophomore effort, The Main Ingredient.

The Soul Brother and the Mecca Don would use the same ingredients as their previous release: CL holding down most of the mic duties and Pete controlling the boards, and occasionally dropping a verse or two. Like Mecca, The Main Ingredient didn’t reap much commercial success, but it did help the duo build on the critical acclaim they received with the former.

Unfortunately, The Main Ingredient would be the last project Pete and CL would release together as a group. I recently heard CL in an interview promoting his new solo project on Sway In The Morning, and it doesn’t sound like the two have resolved their issues, So, we probably won’t be getting any new music from the golden era legends anytime soon.

But I’ll keep the faith.

In The House – After a short interlude with a bouncy instrumental and a Biz Markie vocal sample, Pete Rock drops a soulful loop, dripping with feel good vibes placed over his signature hard hitting drums. And the cherries on top are a few dope Q-Tip vocal samples (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), with one shouting out the Mount Vernon twosome on the hook. CL sounds smooth on the mic, as usual (pun intended) and Pete even drops a decent verse sandwiched in between CL’s. Great way to start the show.

Carmel City – In the imaginary city called Carmel, “CL is God” and all the ladies want a piece of him: “Topnotch, butterscotch lyrics set the mood, to make the most gorgeous women wanna get nude.” CL drops clever couplets in his laidback easy going delivery over a silky smooth PR instrumental that completes the mood that the Mecca Don’s set with his rhymes.

I Get Physical – Pete Rock hooks up a dope Big Daddy Kane vocal loop and an ill guitar loop for the backdrop, as CL continues to spew his seemingly endless batch of abstract poetic rhymes.

Sun Won’t Come Out – I’m pretty sure that every prominent hip-hop producer from the nineties sampled Bob James’ “Nautilus” at least once. Add Pete Rock to that list. CL’s rhymes are sharp, but Pete’s instrumental is average at best. And his repetitive adlibs and nonsensical hook quickly become a nuisance.

I Got A Love – This was the lead single from The Main Ingredient. Over a soulful pimp strut inducing backdrop, CL’s in mack daddy mode, as he spits witty bars about his search for a woman with an “ageless body and timeless mind” whom when he “wines and dines she pays the bill…because it don’t cost much to go Dutch, baby”. Now that’s smooth.

Escape – This is Pete Rock’s solo joint. He serves himself up a monster bouncy bass-heavy groove and actually spits three solid verses over it: “Check the verse in the Bible says man should never covet, but in your life you put nothin’ above it, you seem to love it, invest some stock to clock what’s in my stable, sweatin’ me like Cain sweatin Abel, you’re unstable”. I’m not sure why they titled this one “Escape” and not “Escapism”, but regardless it’s a banger, and it might be my favorite song on the album.

The Main Ingredient – The album’s title song may be the most disappointing moment of the evening. CL delivers quality rhymes, but PR’s instrumental is drier than the Sahara Desert. I love the beautiful interlude that follows this song, though.

Worldwide – PR and his friend, Rob-O handle mic duties while CL takes a quick bathroom break and sits this one out. Or maybe he wasn’t feeling Pete’s empty instrumental and decided not to rhyme over it.

All The Places – CL uses PR’s laidback airy production work to talk about some of the places and things he’s seen. I absolutely love the Donald Byrd sample the instrumental is built around.

Tell Me – More solid rhymes poured over slick laid back production work. Side note: Most of the songs on The Main Ingredient end with a short sweet Pete Rock instrumental interlude, including this one.

Take You There – This was the second single from the album. Pete uses the same classic Keni Burke loop (“Risin’ To The Top”) that Buckwild used for O.C’s “Born 2 Live”, while CL continues to “Breathe some of the most power lyrics of our century”. Crystal Johnson (whose name you may recognize from singing on some of Heavy D’s joints) sings the hook, giving PR’s clean production an even more pop feel that hardcore hip-hop fans might not appreciate. I think its solid, though.

Searching – Pete loops up a portion of Roy Ayers’ classic record of the same name and CL uses it to rap about his love and devotion to his lady. The lovely Vinia Mojica stops by to sing the hook and sprinkles some beautiful adlibs over this well-executed hip-hop love song.

Check It Out – The Mecca Don’s in battle mode on this one, as he elegantly talks his shit and grabs his nuts: “We go back and forth, sending this out to my people up north, tell ’em if you ain’t from New York you’re soft, box or throw rocks, fish or cut bait, cause I fight great, but wait.” PR backs CL’s slick rhymes with a fast paced jazzy backdrop that I can never get enough of.

In The Flesh -PR and CL invite their comrades, Dedi and Rob-O to share the mic with them on this cipher joint. No one spits an extraordinary verse, but Pete’s mellow production work shines through.

It’s On You – Pete constructs a creamy backdrop with an angelic vocal loop on the hook that CL uses to call out his haters that pray for his downfall: “Smile in my face behind my back you talk trash, hope my pockets hit empty and my Lexus crash…but not in your wildest dreams, see my name in all the scandals and all the schemes, I rest in Queens.” This one sounds just as amazing as it did 25 years ago.

Get On The Mic – “It’s On You” should have been the last song on the album. This is a decent song. It just should have been sequenced earlier in the album.

The Main Ingredient finds CL Smooth continuing to sharpen his severely underappreciated and unique rhyming ability, while Pete continues to fine-tune his jazzy production style. Pete’s instrumentals definitely have a more polished sound than the dusty feel he gave us on Mecca & The Soul Brother. I’m sure some might assume the duo were seeking commercial appeal with the cleaner production sound, the female guest vocalists singing on a few of the hooks and CL’s handful of rhymes dedicated to the ladies. Maybe they were, but regardless I enjoyed The Main Ingredient. There are a few songs on The Main Ingredient that the world didn’t necessarily need to hear, but pound for pound, I think it’s a better project than Mecca & The Soul Brother. It’s too bad this dynamic duo couldn’t work through their differences and bless the world with more great music.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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Lords Of The Underground – Keepers Of The Funk (November 1, 1994)

The Lords Of The Underground made some noise in 1993 with their debut album Here Come The Lords, thanks in large part to Marley Marl’s stamp of approval and he and K-Def’s solid production work. The album spawned a few hits singles, building the trio’s momentum and setting up their ’94 sophomore effort, Keepers Of The Funk.

For Keepers Of The Funk, LOTUG would bring back Marley and K-Def to handle most of the production work. The album would yield a few singles, but none of them would do as  well as Here Come The Lords‘ “Chief Rocka”. Keepers Of The Funk didn’t receive a ton of critical acclaim and came and went like a John after bangin’ a prostitute. The album didn’t sell well either and would be the Lords last release on the Pendulum label.

I’m curious as to who made these guys the keepers of the funk.

IntroKeepers Of The Funk opens with a spooky instrumental and an uncredited voice (possibly Lord Jazz?) welcoming the listener to the album. The speaker then ends his short speech asking the listener to make three promises: “You will not lie. You will not cheat. And you will be ever faithful, and a loyal fan to the Lords Of The Underground”. The first two sound a lot easier to live up to than the third.

Ready Or Not – Marley Marl loops up a dope piano sample, laid over feel good vibrations, as DoItAll and Mr. Funke use it to spit mediocre verses on.

Tic Toc – This was the album’s lead single. It sounds like Marley may have been trying to recapture the magic of “Chief Rocka” with his instrumental, as the pace, tone and bass line sound very similar to K-Def’s work on the classic LOTUG record. It’s a solid record, but nowhere near as dope as “Chief Rocka”.

Keepers Of The Funk – For the title song, Marley loops up the P-Funk classic “Atomic Dog”, and the Godfather of P-Funk, George Clinton (aka Dr. Funkenstein) even stops by to sprinkle a few adlibs on the track and ordains the Lords “honorary members of the P-Funk Mob”. All respect due to George Clinton, but this song is horrid. From Marley’s production to DoItAll and Mr. Funke’s terrible rhymes, this was horrendous.

Steam From The Knot – There is absolutely no reason or justification for a DoItAll solo joint. Yet and still, this song exist. K-Def’s dark, slow building instrumental is actually decent, but DoItAll stumbles, bumbles and fumbles all over it with his annoying cadence and elementary rhymes. Even the song title is corny.

What I’m After – This was the second single from Keepers Of The Funk. K-Def provides the smooth instrumental, marinated in super warm vibes, as our hosts tell you what their goals are in this here rap game. Mr. Funke cleverly says in his second verse “I wanna be able to go out and buy a golf range, and still walk away with change”. This is easily my favorite song on the album, thanks largely to the dope instrumental and well-placed Redman vocal loop on the hook.

Faith – This was the third and final single released from Keepers Of The Funk. The Lords sample Denise Williams’ classic record “Free” for the backdrop and invite her to actually sing the hook on this inspirational hip-hop jam. Mr. Funke and DoItAll sound decent on this one, and the hook is certain to motivate you and get you through your day.

Neva Faded – Marley Marl hooks up a dark backdrop for our hosts, who invite their homey, Supreme C to spit the song’s final verse. Supreme C, who sounds a lot like Intelligent Hoodlum, easily raps circles around his gracious hosts. Even with the solid bars from Supreme, this song is still mediocre at best.

No Pain – K-Def lays down an ill instrumental for Mr. Funke to rock the mic over, as he shares the mic with female emcee, Sah-B, who spits some strong bars on this one. Mr. Funke makes several references to people dissin’ him on his verses. I wonder if his bars are directed at someone, specifically (hit me in the comments if you know). All in all, this was a solid record.

Frustrated – If Marley’s instrumentals were cars, this would be the stock base model.  Next…

Yes Y’all – I didn’t care much for this one.

What U See – Marley’s drowsy instrumental is cool, but that’s about all that was decent about this one.

Outtro – The album ends with the same spooky instrumental as the “Intro”, and the same voice shares a few parting words before the album fades to black.

On “Ready Or Not” Mr Funke vows that “this album will be phat”. Well, he lied. Only about half of Keepers Of The Funk is enjoyable, while the other half ranges from mediocre (I have to stop using that word) to downright terrible. DoItAll and Mr. Funke, who have never been great lyricists, don’t even bring the same level of personality that carried them their first go round. When you couple the Lords inferior rhymes and subpar content with Marley and K-Def’s lackluster production, you get an underwhelming sophomore effort that leaves you pondering that maybe one LOTUG album was all that the world needed. And I use the term “needed” loosely.

-Deedub

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