The Beatnuts – Street Level (June 21, 1994)

By 1994 The Beatnuts had strongly established themselves as one of the best east coast production teams in hip-hop by producing tracks for several different artist (Common, Da Youngstas, Chi-Ali and Kurious just to name a few, and the list would only continue to grow). The trio of JuJu, Fashion and Psycho Les were so respected as producers that they were able to parlay their clout into a record deal with Violator Records, releasing their debut project Intoxicated Demons: The EP in the spring of 1993 (read my thoughts on that project here). The EP didn’t do major numbers, but it was well-received by the hip-hop community and set the stage for The Beatnuts first full-length album, Street Level, released the following year.

Other than two tracks, The Beatnuts would handle all the production duties for Street Level. What may come as a surprise to some is that the trio would handle all of the microphone duties, with only two guests stopping by to contribute cameos. Like their debut EP, Street Level received favorable review with only modest album sells.

But forget sells, it’s all about the Street Level reaction. Right?

Intro – The Nuts kick Street Level off with a decent hard backdrop that ends just in time not to get annoying.

Ya Don’t Stop – Lucien (yes, the same Lucien that ATCQ’s “Luck Of Lucien” was written about…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) hooks up a dope xylophone loop and builds this ill dark instrumental around it. Each of the trio spit a verse and manage not to embarrass themselves, but you’ll definitely enjoy the backdrop.

Props Over Here – This was the lead single from Street Level. The trio lay down a smooth groove with a dope bass line underneath it, as each of them spit a verse. JuJu, who is easily the best rapper out of the three, outshines his buddies and sounds comfortable spitting over the mid-tempo backdrop. Despite the lazy hook, this song still sounds great 25 years later.

Hellraiser – The Nuts hook up a (no pun intended) fire instrumental for this one. Again, you don’t listen to a Beatnuts’ album for their stellar lyricism, you listen to it for stellar instrumentals, like this one. As the song fades out the instrumental for the original version of this song plays (you can easily find that version on the web or streaming sites). I actually like the subdued vibe of the O.G. version, but they made the right decision putting this version on the proper album.

Are You Ready – Can I get a question mark for the song title, please? Anyways…Grand Puba stops by and joins JuJu and Les on the mic as they each spit a verse, and Puba easily out performs his gracious hosts. Unfortunately, the V.I.C. produced instrumental is too boring to waste a Grand Puba verse on.

Superbad – Well, I wouldn’t say it’s super bad, but it was mildly unenjoyable.

Straight Jacket – The Nuts beautiful instrumental sounds like a little taste of heaven, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard vocal sample on the hook was a nice added touch.

Let Off A Couple – The fellas lay down an extremely pretty instrumental and do exactly what the song title suggests on the mic. As usual, JuJu outshines his intoxicated companions, but the instrumental is the true star of this one.

Rik’s Joint – This is my favorite song on Street Level. Fashion and Juju each spit verses and don’t say anything worth quoting, but every time I hear this smooth instrumental it stirs my emotions and feels so damn good.

Fried Chicken – I love fried chicken (living up to stereotype), but this batch could stand to cook in the oven a little longer.

Yeah You Get Props – Not to be confused with “Props Over Here”, even though it does recycle a part of that song’s hook for the hook on this song. This is clearly filler material (which really isn’t necessary for a 17 track album), but it’s still decent.

Get Funky – The Nuts steer the ship back in the right direction with this one. They build the smooth instrumental around a laid back funky guitar loop, and like most of Street Level, they spew nonsense over it.

Hit Me With That – This shit is hard. The Nuts hook-up rough drums, lay a thick bass line and sprinkle the illest xylophone loop I’ve ever heard (at least this week) over it. This one is super sick.

2-3 Break – A la Gang Starr’s “I’m The Man” and “Speak Ya Clout”, The Beatnuts hook-up three different instrumentals and each take one of them to spit a verse over (with JuJu being the generous guy and sharing his verse with Gab from Triflicts). But unlike Guru, Jeru and Lil’ Dap, The Beatnuts (and Gab) fail to delivery lyrical or musically.

Lick The Pussy – Fashion goes dolo and speaks about one of his favorite pastimes. Props to Fashion, as most rappers in the pseudo masculine hardcore hip-hop world that was the mid-nineties would never admit to taking part in this sexual delicacy. But even more tasty is the Nuts instrumental, which is built around a sexy loop from Tyron Davis’ “In The Mood” (which was also the source material for MC Eiht’s “All For The Money”, released later the same year…but I digress). Listening to this was almost as enjoyable as…eating pussy.

Sandwiches – This is Psycho Les’ solo joint. Over an instrumental that sounds a lot like something Muggs would have created, Les spits one lone verse filled with complete and utter nonsense (at one point he brags about having an “ostrich size dick”). This was super juvenile and pointless.

Psycho Dwarf – This was also included on the Intoxicated Demons EP, and it sounds just as trash as it did the first time around.

On Street Level The Beatnuts give you exactly what you expect from them: Passable rhymes over a quality batch of beats. Like most albums, there are a handful of tracks that should have been left on the cutting room, but the majority of Street Level will keep your face screwed and your head bobbin’.

-Deedub

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Arrested Develompent – Zingalamaduni (June 14, 1994)

Arrested Development came on the scene in 1992 and made a huge impact with their debut album 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of… which sold over 4 million copies, produced a few major pop hits and earned the group a pair of Grammy (you can read my thoughts on that album here). With all of the accolades and commercial success that 3 Years garnered, the hard to impress and always suspicious hip-hop community didn’t fully embrace AD, as they were perceived as soft rap hippy weirdos, similar to how A Tribe Called Quest was received when they first hit the scene (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check!). Regardless of what the heads felt, 4 million units sold pretty much guaranteed Chrysalis Records would give them a follow-up. Arrested Development would return in 1994 with their sophomore effort, Zingalamaduni.

Zingalamaduni, which means “a beehive of culture” in Swahili, would follow the same format as 3 Years, with Speech producing, rapping and singing for the entire album while the rest of the team stood by and watched (j/k). Unlike it predecessor, Zingalamaduniwasn’t a commercial success, as it didn’t even reach gold status, and of course the heads weren’t checking for it.

I’ve never listened to Zingalamaduni in its entirety. Lets give her a few spins and see if the album is as bad as its sells reflected.

WMFW (We Must Fight & Win) FMZingalamaduni opens with Baba Oje (the old grey haired/bearded grandfather like gentleman in the group) playing the DJ for the fictitious FM radio station WMFW (see the acronym in the song title), which apparently only plays conscious music. This also doubles as a short intro to the album.

United Minds – Over African tribal drums and chant and emotional keyboard chords, Speech calls for all races to become like-minded so we can collectively make change in the world. He also sprinkles some jewels into his verses along the way (“I try to eat healthy to avoid the cancer, one ounce of prevention beats 100 pounds of cure, pure ways of living is not hippish, it’s not white, not black its just conscious, conscious of your health, conscious of your self, instead of being so damn conscious of your wealth”). Nice way to kick things off.

Ache’n For Acres – Speech speaks (no pun intended) on the importance of owing land which can be passed down from generation to generation, thus creating generational wealth. He raps: “ache’n for acres, plenty of acres, money spent on rent ain’t earning me a cent, Ain’t gettin’ no caddy, no Benz, no Jeep, until I got some money for some land to keep”. Speech and company’s uptempo backdrop has a twangy slightly drunken feel to it that actually works. This is a song I wouldn’t have appreciated in my teens, but definitely respect the message as a full-grown man.

United Front – This one pretty much follows the same theme as “United Front”, only with a more Afrocentric focus, as Speech ends each of his verses shouting out “the red, and the black, and the green”. I didn’t care for Speech’s singy delivery or the music backing him on this one.

Africa’s Inside Me – According to Wikipedia, this was the second single released from Zingalamaduni, although I don’t remember it from back in the day. Speech and company hook up a melodic mid-tempo backdrop that samples the same Joe Sample record (sample of Sample…funny) that would later be used as the musical foundation for 2pac’s classic record “Dear Mama”. Speech and Fulani from a group called Gumbo (and even though I’ve never heard of him or the group, Gumbo is an ill ass group name) take turns spittin’ verses about the African spirit that still lives inside of all of its descendants, no matter how much we African-Americans try to deny or suppress it. Good message, and a great song.

Pride – The African tribal singing and drums set the mood for this one, which continues the African pride theme from the previous song. The message was redundant and I didn’t care for Speech’s delivery of the message, either.

Shell – This song has a great message (“Just a shell, until you decide to rebel”), but Speech’s rhyming, the annoyingly repetitive hook and the underwhelming musical backing quickly bury it.

Mister Landlord –  Speech sounds as militant as I’ve ever heard him on this one, as he warns the white man that he won’t standby and passively watch him mistreat black people: “Just to bring peace, do I have to get a piece? And in the break of dawn I guess I’ll pray to the east, Cause I’m not the one to get slapped on the cheek, without my fist curling up to hit you back in your teeth”. I like Speech’s unexpected strong stance, and he and his team’s folk meets hip-hop instrumental was dope.

Warm Sentiments – This song would have had all of feminist Twitter’s panties in a bunch and hanging Speech in a cyber lynching had it been released today. The story line is Speech’s lady decides to get an abortion without his blessing and he spends the entire song politely, reprimanding her for her actions. I personally like Speech’s male perspective on the sensitive topic, and the soulful instrumental is enjoyable as well. Let me know how ya’ll feel about the song in the comments.

The Drum – Short instrumental interlude that pays homage to the foundation of every song…well, at least 99 percent of them.

In The Sunshine – Over quality live instrumentation, Speech sings about a life free of corruption and strife. This kind of sounds like something Bob Marley would have written if he were still alive and recording music today, or in 1994 (Speech’s adlibs on this song actually sound a lot like Bob Marley’s). Not my favorite song on the album, but it’s decent.

Kneelin’ At My Altar – Over a sick uptempo instrumental (I absolutely love the horn loop laced throughout the song) Speech stresses the importance of prayer in order to keep his peace and get him through the challenges of every day life. This was a pretty dope record.

Fountain Of Youth – Speech’s rhymes are too abstract for my taste buds, but I like the big zany horn loop laced throughout the solid instrumental.

Ease My Mind – This was the lead single and the only song I was familiar with before going into this post. Over a beautifully melodic instrumental, Speech addresses the importance of taking time to maintain your inner peace while living in this crazy world. This was dope, and it sounds way better than in did back in ’94. Give it a few spins and let me know if you agree.

Praisin’ U – Speech and company close out Zingalamaduni with this gospel-like joint that has Speech singing praises to God over some pleasant instrumentation. Nice way to end the evening.

Zingalamaduni has a lot more African pride and black upliftment themes than its predecessor (even the Swahili album title is testament to that), which may have scared some of Arrested Development’s white supporters away. That and the fact it doesn’t have any undeniable bangers or big crossover pop hits are probably what caused the dismal album sells. But in my opinion, Zingalamaduni is a stronger project than 3 Years. Speech and company string together a batch of their own unique brand of instrumentals that Speech uses to enlighten the listener through meaty messages. A few of his messages get lost in poor delivery, overly abstract rhymes or mediocre production, but more often than not, he does a solid job behind the mic and the boards. Zingalamaduni is far from a classic, but it’s a solid album that’s aged well.

-Deedub

 

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Warren G – Regulate…G Funk Era (June 7, 1994)

The world first heard of Warren G from his guest appearance on Mista Grimm’s “Indo Smoke” from the Poetic Justice Soundtrack. But before he got his break with Grimm, Warren was grindin’ in Long Beach and the surrounding area trying to get into the game with his group 213, which consisted of himself, Nate Dogg (rip) and Snoop Dogg. In fact, Warren G (who is Dr. Dre’s half-brother) is responsible for introducing Snoop to Dre, and we all know how monumental that introduction was to hip-hop. Snoop would soon ascend to hip-hop’s pinnacle in the early nineties as a solo artist, leaving Nate and Warren left to fin for themselves (even though Snoop did throw them a bone (no pun intended), with Nate getting a chance to croon on The Chronic’s “Deeez Nuuuts” and he and Warren would both get an invite to get on the misogynistic classic “It Ain’t No Fun”). No worries, as they would both land on their feet, with Nate signing with Elektra and Warren inking a deal with Violator Records, where he would release his debut album, Regulate…G Funk Era.

With the help of a handful of musicians, Warren G would follow in his big brother’s foot steps and produce the entirety of Regulate, inviting some new artist to help carry the weight on the microphone. Thanks in large part to the monster lead single, Regulate would go on to earn Warren G a platinum plaque, selling over 3 million copies, and receive critical acclaim from the critics.

Lets revisit Regulate and see how it’s held up over the past twenty-five years.

Regulate – This title track and lead single was also the lead single for the Above The Rim Soundtrack. Warren G and company (which is Greg Geitzenauer on keyboards and Andreas Straub on guitar) hook up an interpolation of Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin (Every Time You’re Near)”, as Warren G and his 213 bredrin Nate Dogg rap and sing a tale, respectively, about a night (with “a clear black night” and “a clear white moon”) where a mission to “consume skirts” takes a turn for the worst. It’s clear from the jump that Warren G is not a great lyricist, but Nate Dogg does prove to be a dope vocalist, as he completely bodies the dope instrumental work. If you don’t agree that this is a classic record, than you’re a buster and worthy of some regulating.

Do You See – This was the third and final single released from Regulate. Warren and company lay out a clean laid back instrumental that our host uses to discuss his childhood and coming into the game with his 213 click (back when Snoop Dogg was going by Snoop Rock, according to Warren). Warren’s corny rhymes quickly become a reoccurring theme, but the smooth sounds of the Warren G/Geitzenauer/Straub concocted backdrop, along with the catchy hook (which is just as corny as it is catchy) will make you overlook just how bad our host’s rhymes are.

Gangsta  Sermon – A juvenile interlude with B-Tip (not to be confused with A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip…you like how I snuck that Tribe Degrees of Separation in there?) and the late comedian Ricky Harris. This definitely hasn’t aged well.

Recognize – Over some smooth G-Funked instrumentation, Warren introduces the world to The Twinz, Tripp Loc and Wayniac, who are actually twin brothers. Our host and The Twinz each spit a verse, and while Warren struggles (the man rhymes “era” with “era”) The Twinz actually sound decent. But the true star of this one is the smooth groove laid behind them.

Super Soul Sis – Our host introduces yet another new artist. This time female emcee Jah-Skilz goes dolo over a very average instrumental. Jah-Skilz is not as lyrical or charismatic as say, a Lady of Rage, but she does a serviceable job on this one. Her line about “Rapper’s skills are thinner than niggas on AIDS” was kind of comical…only because I’ve never heard anyone reference AIDS as something you’re “on”.

’94 Ho Draft – See comments from “Gangsta Sermon”.

So Many Ways – Warren G and Wayniac from The Twinz, spill rhymes over this crispy clean smooth groove, while Lady Levi (whom you may remember for her opening reggae chant on The Chronic’s “Let Me Ride”) adds some adlibs and takes care of the hook. I absolutely love the fuzzy bass line on this instrumental. Every time I hear this song it makes me want to roller skate or front like I’m rollin’ through the streets of LA in a drop top ’64.

This D.J. – This was the second single released from Regulate. Before Lil’ Duval was  “Living My Best Life”, there was Warren G’s “This DJ”, which uses an interpolation of the same Midnight Star sample used on the former (which was actually first used a few years prior on the severely underrated Eric B & Rakim record “What’s On Your Mind” off the Don’t Sweat The Technique album and included on the House Party 2 Soundtrack…but I digress). Our host uses the slick and polished production to reminisce about his childhood growing up in Long Beach, California. Despite Warren’s underwhelming rhymes, the instrumental and catchy hook propelled this to become a classic record.

This Is The Shack – Warren G continues his Regulate crew roll out plan. This time he lets the three-man team (Bo Rock, 2Scoops and C-Knight) collectively known as The Dove Shack, shine, or at least attempt to. Each of them spit underwhelming verses, but fear not: Warren G and his cast of live musicians (Sean Thomas on keyboards, Andreas Straub on guitar, Daniel Shulman on bass and Carl Small on percussion) put their collective foot in this instrumental and cook up some shit that will satisfy your soul, making you forget all about the forgettable emceeing from The Dove Shack.

What’s Next – Mr. Malik, formerly of the Philly based kid duo Illegal, jumps on this track and raps next to his gracious host. I wasn’t a fan of Mr. Malik’s rhymes when he was with Illegal or what he did with Snoop on Doggystyle’s “Pump Pump”, but he actually rides this slick Warren G and company produced backdrop pretty effectively. Or maybe when you’re rapping next to a man who rhymes “function” with “function”, makes corny train sound effectives in the middle of his rhymes and spells “next” wrong at the beginning of his final verse, you sound better than you truly are.

And Ya Don’t Stop – Warren builds this instrumental around a dope guitar loop taken from Don Julian’s “Janitzio” and turns it into a slick instrumental. Unfortunately, his elementary rhymes detract from the song’s dopeness. It would have been nice to see his former 213 bredrin Snoop Dogg spit on this one, but whatever.

Runnin’ Wit No BreaksRegulate ends with Greg G playing some infectious piano keys over a mid-tempo drum beat that Jah-Skilz, Warren G, Tripp Loc and Wayniac use to each spit a verse over. None of the parties involved embarrass themselves on the mic (with Warren being the exception), but no one sounds spectacular, either. But like most of the album, the instrumental work covers up the emcees’ transgressions.

Let me start by saying Warren G is a terrible rapper. But the dude has a great ear for music. Over the course of fourteen tracks (with two being interludes), Warren spits severely famished rhymes, while his crew of D-list emcees come through as serviceable at best. But Warren and his cast of musicians serve up a batch of polished G-Funk instrumentation that will keep your head bobbin, your ear satisfied and a willingness to overlook all that he and his team lack on the mic. If The Chronic was the main course of your G-Funk meal, Doggystyle would be the dessert and Regulate…G Funk Era would serve as the perfect appetizer.

-Deedub

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Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (May 31, 1994)

After a three-year hiatus, The Beastie Boys returned in 1992 with their third release, Check Your Head. The album was a commercial success (selling over 3 million copies) and received favorable reviews from the critics. The Beasties were praised for the album’s experimental vibes, as they distanced themselves from the traditional sample based production used on their previous album, Paul’s Boutique. I personally thought Check Your Head was average at best, but I may be a bit bias, since I believe the trio are severely overrated. Regardless, they would return in 1994 with their 4th album, Ill Communication.

Ill Communication (which is a pretty dope album title) would pick up where Check Your Head left off at, with less samples and more live instrumentation from the Beasties and company. Like their previous three albums, Ill Communication would earn the trio a platinum plaque (times three) and the world (critics and fans) would greet it with heaps of praise.

Lets see if the Beasties will make me a believer this time around.

Sure ShotIll Communication opens with rough drums placed underneath a soulful flute loop and the Beasties spilling random rhymes in the same distorted microphone fashion they used on Check Your Head. I could careless for the Beasties outdated rhyme schemes, but this instrumental is dope.

Tough Guy – The boys go into a short rock mash-up for this short song that kind of works as a playful interlude. I didn’t care for it, but at least it’s short.

B-Boys Makin’ With The Freak Freak – The BB’s cook up a pretty dope boom bap backdrop but waste all of its dopeness with more of their distorted outdated rhyme styling.

Bobo On The Corner – Short instrumental interlude dedicated to…that Bobo on the corner.

Root Down – This was the final single released from Ill Communication. The boys hook up a dope up-tempo groove complete with a scorchin’ hot organ break during the hook, and they actually sound pretty dope spittin’ over it. Side Note: The “Root Down” maxi-single (or EP) has a “Free Zone Remix” for this song that goes down smoother than a glass of Grey Goose. No chaser required.

Sabotage – This was the lead single from Ill Communication, and only one of two songs that I was familiar with going into this post. Ad-Rock goes dolo on this one, screaming the verses and hook over blaring rock guitar chords. I hated this song back in the day, and today I’m sticking with my story.

Get It Together – Q-Tip joins the trio on this one (that was an easy Tribe Degrees of Separation), as they pass the mic like a hot potato and playfully spit nonsensical freestyle rhymes over a dope jazzy backdrop. This was pretty dope.

Sabrosa – The Beasties take another jam session break and come up with this funky little diddly, and it lives up to its title (“Sabrosa” is Spanish for “tasty”). Well done, fellas.

The Update – MCA goes dolo on this one, spitting two highly distorted verses over live instrumentation that’s so loud it drowns out his vocals, making his rhymes almost inaudible. I read the song’s lyrics in the liner notes and it actually sounds like MCA had something to say. Too bad his message gets lost in the music and a cheap microphone.

Futterman’s Rule – The liner notes have a quote from a Gene Futterman (who, based on a little research, I found was a New York City native Architect and teacher who died from liver cancer back in 1987), that reads “When two are served, you may begin to eat”. Apparently, Mr. Futterman and that quote inspired this soft rock instrumental that I’m not crazy about, but it’s passable.

Alright Hear This –  I didn’t care much for this one.

Eugene’s Lament – I’m assuming this is dedicated to Mr. Futterman from the interlude two tracks ago, who’s proper first name was Eugene. The trio must have been pretty close to the man, as they dedicate this very somber and slightly dark instrumental to him.

Flute Loop – The song title sounds like a working demo title that the Beasties forgot to change for the album’s final cut…but anyway. As you may have already figured out based on the title, the backdrop is built around a pretty flute loop that the trio continue to spew barely audible rhymes over.

Do It – Biz Markie drops in to contribute some adlibs and the hook, while the Beasties kick their zany brand of braggadocious rhyming over a surprisingly hard backdrop. This was pretty cool.

Ricky’s Theme – I’m not sure who Ricky is, but the fellas dedicate this beautiful instrumental piece to him. This is easily the best instrumental on Ill Communication, and my favorite track on the album.

Heart Attack Man – Sounds like the fellas recycled the instrumental from “Tough Guy” and changed the lyrics to talk (or scream) about a two-hundred and seventy-five pound dude aka Heart Attack Man. It must be an inside joke. And since I’m not inside, I don’t get it.

The Scoop – The Beasties and company hook up the illest instrumental of the evening on this one. The instrumental is so smooth that not even the mic distortion can distract from its brilliance. And the fellas actually sound swaggy spittin’ over it.

Shambala – Shambala (sometimes spelled “Shambhala”) means peace, tranquility and happiness in Buddhism. I’m not sure how this dark instrumental evokes any of those three virtues, but whatever.

Bodhisattva Vow – In Buddhism “Bodhisattva” is when a person is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.  MCA (who was a practicing Buddhist) gets a solo joint and vows to adhere to this way a life. It was nice to learn something new about Buddhism, but this song did nothing for me.

TransitionsIll Communication closes with this instrumental that feels like it may be the theme music for dying and transitioning to the next life. This was a solid way to end the album.

Ill Communication is easily the most mature album of the Beastie Boys first four (thanks largely to MCA’s new-found consciousness, which can directly be credited to his Buddhist disciplines), and in my opinion, the strongest. No, the Beasties aren’t super lyrical, and honestly, the vocal distortion combined with their prehistoric flow gets hard to listen to over the course of twenty tracks. But more often than not, the production works, and on occasion, the Beasties even sound good spittin’ over the instrumentals. I still believe The Beasties Boys are overrated, but Ill Communication is a decent album.

-Deedub

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Jeru The Damaja – The Sun Rises In The East (May 24, 1994)

Since hip-hop’s conception, Brooklyn has produced a slew of dope emcees: Masta Ace, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Joell Ortiz, MC Lyte, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, to arguably three of the greatest emcees of all time, in Big Daddy Kane, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. Another dope Brooklyn bred emcee who I feel has never got his proper do is the subject of today’s post: Jeru The Damaja.

The first time I heard Jeru The Damaja was in 1992 on the Gang Starr cipher joint “I’m The Man” where he stole the show from his fellow crew members Lil Dap and Guru. After that verse it was only a matter of time before the self-proclaimed Perverted Monk would get a solo deal. He would sign to Payday Records and in 1994 released his debut album The Sun Rises In The East.

The Sun Rises In The East would be completely produced by DJ Premier and only feature one cameo, leaving the rest of the microphone duties to Jeru. The album wasn’t a huge commercial success, but it did garner heaps of praise from the critics and real heads alike, and it’s an album that I’ve held in high regards through the years.

Let’s listen and see if it lives up to all of its nostalgia.

Intro (Life)TSRITE opens with a mystical feeling instrumental playing in the background while Jeru briefly shares his theory on life. That’s all I got.

D. Original – This was the follow-up single to “Come Clean”. Premo lays a drunken piano loop over a rough drum pattern, as our host uses it to represent all of his dirty rotten scoundrelness. It’s a decent song, but one of my least favorites on the album.

Brooklyn Took It – Jeru uses this one to represent for his Brooklyn borough. I have no idea who or what the hell Premo sampled for this instrumental, but the way he loops it and sprinkles the shit over these dope drums and ill bass line is ridiculous.

Perverted Monks In The House (Skit) – Jeru’s talkin’ his shit on this one. Over a smooth mid-tempo groove he lets the world know that he’s willing, ready and able to destroy any would be challengers who want to bring it. “Any man…any man…no matter who he be…who he be”. This skit sets up the next song.

Mental Stamina – Jeru’s Perverted Monk bredrin, Afu-Ra makes the only cameo appearance on TSRITE, as he teams up with our host and they commence to beat the shit out of the comp with their “scientifical power” and big words: “Feudalistic linguistic, check out the mystic, we’re fantistic, (ya mean fantastic) fuck it, you get your ass kicked, challenge my verbal gymnastic”. Jeru and Afu aren’t Nas and AZ on “Life’s A Bitch”, but they sound solid. Premo’s bananas instrumental is the true star of this one, though. I can’t even describe its dopeness in words. If you’ve never heard it before, go listen to this shit, immediately.

Da BichezTSRITE takes the intensity down a few notches from the previous track, as Premo lays out a smooth groove for Jeru to address the gold digging chicks only looking to use and abuse a man for their own personal gain: “Now a queen’s a queen, and a stunt is a stunt, you can tell who’s who by the things they want, most chicks want minks, diamonds a Benz, spend up all your ins, probably fuck your friends, high post attitudes real rude with fat asses, think that the pussy is made out of gold, try to control you by sliding up and down on the wood, they be givin’ up sex for goods”. This is a great well-executed record.

You Can’t Stop The Prophet – This is easily my least favorite song on TSRITE. Jeru shares his tale of being a conscious black super hero named “The Black Prophet” who’s waging war against his arch nemesis Mr. Ignorance and his band of vigilantes: Hatred, Jealously, Envy, Anger, Despair, Animosity and Mr. Ignorance’s wife, Deceit. Jeru’s story line is pretty clever and well laid out, but Premo’s instrumental is boring and makes it hard to follow (or care about). Side note: The Pete Rock remix for this song is fire!

Perverted Monks In Tha House (Theme) – Premo lets the same instrumental from the previous skit, rock (hence the same title), which works out to be a nice little album intermission.

Ain’t The Devil Happy – Premo creates a dark backdrop that’s drenched in seriousness and urgency and serves as the perfect canvas for Jeru to deliver his sermon over (and the Rza vocal loop on the hook is super ill). Jeru calls out the black man for falling into the traps the white man, aka the devil, has laid out for him in America: “Devil got brother killin’ brother, its insane, going out like Abel and Cane, wising up and use your brain, they’ll be no limit to the things that you can gain”. Our host delivers his message as more of a spoken word piece than an actual rap, but it’s still potent. This song has aged very well.

My Mind Spray – Next to James Brown’s catalog, Bob James’ “Nautilus” may be the most sampled song in hip-hop history. I’ve heard some amazing flips of the record (I mean, it’s probably hard to mess up such a dope break, but still), but Premo’s flippage of the loop on this song is completely bananas. Jeru takes his unorthodox flow and tiptoes over the brilliant backdrop, flawlessly. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on TSRITE.

Come Clean – Jeru concludes the third piece of arguably the dopest three-piece combo in the history of hip-hop albums with his classic debut single. Premo lays down some heavy drums placed over a loop of what sounds likes tribal African drums, and our host completely destroys it with his “freaky freaky flow”: “Real, rough and rugged, shine like a gold nugget, every time I pick up the microphone I drug it, unplug it on chumps with the gangster babble, leave your nines at home and bring your skills to the battle”. This is an undeniable hip-hop classic, and Premo’s instrumental is arguably a top ten in hip-hop history.

Jungle Music – Our host uses this one to address how the white man has stolen and abused every form of black created music throughout history: “We went from pyramids to the ghetto, still my sounds make devils tumble like the wall of Jericho, chant my power to devour all the snakes and rats, extra sensory possession to avoid all traps, make a joyful noise unto the Lord, in the sanctuary of your caves white kids press record, as my mystic music spreads from sea to galaxy, its inevitable you can’t stop me, try to carbon copy, but it always comes out sloppy, you can’t out rap me you can’t out rock me”. This is a solid song with a lot of lyrical meat to chew on. I probably enjoyed Jeru’s rhymes more than Premo’s instrumental.

Statik – The final song of the evening finds Jeru talking shit over a Premo instrumental built around a drum beat, a bouncy bass line and a loop of what sound like the static from a record player. Not the strongest song on TSRITE, but its a solid way to wrap things up.

On The Sun Rises In The East Jeru proves to be a formidable emcee with a proper balance of consciousness, righteousness, intellect and enough lyrical Kung-Fu to kick most competition’s ass. As usual, Premo provides a quality batch of instrumentals for our host, sprinkling in a few brilliant moments along the way. My only gripe with TSRITE is the low quality mixing. A tighter mix could have made some elements stand out more, turning good records into great records and great records into phenomenal ones. In a nutshell, The Sun Rises In The East is a borderline classic album in need of a mean remastering.

-Deedub

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Heavy D & The Boyz – Nuttin’ But Love (May 24, 1994)

We last heard from Heavy D & The Boyz in 1993 with their gold selling fourth release Blue Funk, which also happens to be my favorite Heavy D album. As the title suggest, Blue Funk found Heavy D and dem trying to move forward but still in a mourning state over their fallen dancing comrade Trouble T-Roy. Hev and the crew would return in ’94 in better spirits, releasing their 5th album, Nuttin’ But Love.

Nuttin’ But Love would be the final project for Heavy D & The Boyz as a group (Hev would continue releasing music as a solo artist, which is pretty much what he was doing with “The Boyz” anyways), and as the title suggests, most of the themes would be centered around love, which if you’re remotely familiar with Heavy D’s catalog, you know that falls right into his wheelhouse. Hev would call on familiar faces to produce the album: his cousin Pete Rock, Eddie F, Marley Marl, Teddy Riley and a few other special guests. Nuttin’ But Love would go one to become Heavy D & The Boyz most successful commercial album, earning the trio another platinum plaque, selling two million plus units.

I’ve never listened to Nuttin’ But Love in its entirety before today. Let’s walk through it and see if my feelings towards the album match up to the album’s title.

Friends & RespectNuttin’ But Love opens with a nice warm and mellow instrumental playing, while several of Heavy’s friends, from Queen Latifah to Q-Tip (I got my Tribe Degrees of Separation in!), LL, Treach, Kool G Rap, KRS-One, MC Lyte, Spike Lee and several more, stop by to drop a line showing love and respect for the Overweight Lover. This is a very heartfelt and touching piece, that’s even more intensified now that he’s gone.

Sex Wit You – The first actual song of the evening (which was also the fourth single released from the album) finds Heavy’s cousin Pete Rock jacking the same Whatnauts loop that De La Soul used for their classic “Ring Ring Ring” record, but of course the Chocolate Boy Wonder adds his signature horns to it. Heavy Dwight stays true to his lover boy persona, as he spits game to a potential love prospect. I love PR’s production work on this one, and Hev accommodates the track, perfectly.

Got Me Waiting – This was the third single from Nuttin’ But Love. This time around Heavy’s trying to figure out if a certain lady is really trying to be with him or just leading him on. Before reading the liner notes I had no idea that Pete Rock produced this one, as it doesn’t sound like his normal steez. It’s got a strong R&B presence (which is probably more so do to Crystal Johnson’s singing during the hook), but it’s still a dope hip-hop instrumental and Heavy sounds smooth spittin’ over it.

Nuttin’ Nut Love – This title track was also the second single released from the album, and I’ll admit I never liked it back in the day. The Heavy D/Kid Capri concocted instrumental is way too synthy for my taste buds and it just plain sounds corny. To add insult to injury, Heavy’s rhymes are all over the place, bordering on senseless. Well, at least the hook is catchy.

Something Goin’ On – Marley Marl gets his first of two production credits on Nuttin’ But Love, building this instrumental around a loop from Tonya Gardner’s “Heartbeat”, that most will recognize as the musical foundation for Ini Kamoze’s Hotstepper”. Hev uses it to reflect on the good woman in his life that left him because he wasn’t treating her right. Kudos to our host for being vulnerable and still managing to keep the song light-hearted. This was pretty dope.

This Is Your Night – The legendary creator of New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley gets his only production credit on Nuttin’ But Love, building this breezy backdrop around elements of George Benson’s “Give Me The Night”. Unfortunately, Heavy struggles to keep up with the track’s pace and never finds his footing, but I still enjoyed Teddy Riley’s instrumental, and completely understand if it’s too commercial sounding to my hardcore hip-hop folks.

Got Me Waiting (Remix) – Heavy taps Alton “Wookie” Stewart to produce this remix, and he drenches the track heavily in R&B seasoning. The 90’s R&B group Silk stops by to sing the hook while Heavy regurgitates his rhymes from the O.G. version. I’m not crazy about this song, but it definitely fits Hev’s R&B lover boy emcee persona.

Take Your Time – Erick Sermon steps out of his traditional funk realm and lays down a smooth instrumental built around a loop from Patrice Rushen’s “Take Your Time” (which happens to be one of my favorite hip-hop loops), and the lovely Vinia Mojica (whose voice you might recognize from De La Soul’s “A Roller Skating Jam Named “Saturdays”” or ATCQ’s “Verses From The Abstract” (Bam! There’s another Tribes Degrees of Separation for dat ass!), or Black Star’s “K.O.S. (Determination)”, just to name a few) stops by to sing the hook. Hev leaves the ladies alone on this one and spits light-hearted freestyle rhymes. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Spend A Little Time On Top – Heavy brags about his freakiness while some brave young ladies ask the Overweight Lover to spend some time on top of them during the hook. Marley Marl completely butchers the classic Sylvers “Misdemeanor” loop (see The D.O.C.’s “Funky Enough” and Gang Starr’s “Soliloquy of Chaos”) that he builds this terrible instrumental around. This was horrendous.

Keep It Goin’– Heavy D and Troy “Druppy Dog” Williams get co-production credit for this smooth jazz-tinged groove that our host uses to get loose over and demonstrate how nimble his tongue is. This was pretty dope.

Black Coffee – This was the lead single from Nuttin’ But Love. I’ve probably said it once or twice before on this blog, but Easy Moe Bee is an extremely underrated producer. He lays down this silky smooth instrumental that Heavy uses to rap praises and express is commitment to the black woman. This record actually sounds better today than it did twenty-five years ago.

Move On – On this one Hev stresses that no matter what life throws at you, you gotta keep your head up and keep it movin’. Tone (half of the often overlooked and under-credited production duo, Trackmaster or sometimes spelled Trak Masterz) gets credit for the soulful mid-tempo groove built around a loop from Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover”. Side note: Hev previously rapped over this loop on the Marley Marl produced track “The Lover’s Got What You Need” off the Peaceful Journey album. I like what Marley did with it, but Tone’s flippage of the loop mixed with Heavy’s content makes for a stronger song. Another side note: Vinia Mojica gets her fourth and final vocal credit of Nuttin’ But Love, as she and Maurice Lauchner handle the hook and adlibs. All in all, this was a pretty dope song.

Lord’s PrayerNuttin’ But Love ends with Heavy’s nephews saying the Lord’s Prayer while Soul For Real (remember those guys?) sings behind them. And this concludes the catalog of Heavy D & The Boyz.

I mentioned earlier that Blue Funk is my favorite Heavy D album, mainly do to the fact that it’s the purist hip-hop album in their catalog, but after living with Nuttin’ But Love for the past few weeks, pound for pound, it may be a better album than its predecessor. There are a few missteps (mainly “Spend A Little Time On Top”), but overall, the team of decorated producers recruited to create the soundscape for Nuttin’ But Love do a great job, and Heavy spits over the batch of bomb backdrops with charisma and confidence. There are several emcees who have a better flow and stronger bars than Heavy D, but only a few have been better at consistently crafting commercially successful albums that are equally quality and entertaining than the Overweight Lover.

-Deedub

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Top Quality – Magnum Opus (May 24, 1994)

New York is the mecca of hip-hop music and culture. Originating in the Bronx (1520 Sedgwick Ave to be exact…shoutout to Kool Herc!) in the seventies, it would soon blossom and blow up in the other four New York City boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island) and Long Island, birthing several hip-hop legends and classic records. Before going west to California and becoming a universal phenomenon, hip-hop would also spread to other east coast cities and states (i.e. Philly and New Jersey), but it’s safe to say only one emcee has ever repped for White Plains, NY on a national level. Ladies and gentlemen, Top Quality.

Top Quality was a featured artist in The Source‘s once coveted Unsigned Hype column back in April of 1991. The column praised the White Plains emcee for being “faster than The Jaz (as in Jay-Z’s mentor, Jaz-O) when it comes to speed rhymes.” Thanks to the exposure from The Source and a copy of his demo getting into the hands of Parrish Smith (one half of the legendary duo EPMD), Top Quality would sign to Parrish’s PMD imprint  under RCA Records where he would release his debut album, presumptuously titled Magnum Opus.

Parrish Smith served as the executive producer for Magnum Opus, but surprisingly he doesn’t produce any of the album’s tracks. Instead, Top Quality would rely on a handful of producers to craft the soundscape for the album. Magnum Opus would produce one minor hit, but I doubt you can find three people who actually own a copy of the album.

Well, you found one in me.

Messages From UptownMagnum Opus begins with a hard backdrop that some how makes the pretty sample from The Emotions’ “Blind Alley” (which has been used in quite a few different hip-hop songs over the years: see Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” and Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker”) sound dark. Top Quality puts his underwhelming choppy flow and random lyrics on display and manages not to distract from the illness of Hell Raisin’s instrumental.

Someone So Fly – Top Quality uses no less than four different rapping voices on this song, spittin’ a portion of his rhymes in Pig-Latin, and still manages to say absolutely nothing. Khaalia Allah’s instrumental isn’t spectacular, but it will grow on you after a few listens.

Caught Up In The Flizny – Everything about this song is rashtay.

Magnum Opus – This title track was the only song that I was familiar with before this post. Keivan Mack builds a beautiful instrumental around a smooth loop from a Roy Ayers/Wayne Henderson record, and TQ plays it pretty straight with the rhymes, for most of the song. This song never really took off back in the day, but the instrumental sounds even better today than it did twenty-five years ago.

Check The Credentials – Black Zone (which is an ill ass hip-hop moniker) hooks up an instrumental that sounds like an incomplete EPMD idea, while are host talks trash, nonsense and goes on a short Pig-Latin rant during the middle of the song. Next…

What – Jesse West, who was going by his alter-ego, 3rd Eye at this point, gets the production credit and contributes a verse to the song. 3rd Eye (who manages to uses “nigga” nine times in a sixteen bar verse, which is a bit excessive) sounds a lot more grimy and animated than the smooth and conscious Jesse West from No Prisoners (read my thought on that album here), and even though his rhymes are sub par, his grimy persona fits his dark and gutter production work well. TQ bats second and for the first time of the evening he refers to his weirdo abstract rhyming style as that “Helen Keller shit”, which I find hi-larious, but I’m sure if this album came out in today’s super-sensitive society he’d get murdered by the court of public opinion, forcing RCA to shelve the project or at least pull this song from the album (Google Helen Keller if you’re not familiar with who she is). But I digress. All in all, this was pretty enjoyable.

You Gotta Check It – As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not crazy about Top Quality’s flow or rhyming style, but he actually rides this sick Charlie Marotta produced instrumental, beautifully, leaving his swag dripping all over it. This is dope.

Something New – I didn’t care much for this one.

I Can’t Hear You – Long time Das EFX production duo, Solid Scheme get their only production credit on Magnum Opus, and they make sure it counts. They hook up this slightly dark mid-tempo groove for our host, who continues to spew his Helen Keller shit. TQ doesn’t say anything memorable, but the hook is catchy and the instrumental is dope.

Graveyard Shift – Over a boring Charlie Marotta instrumental our host discusses being mistaken for a drug dealer by both crackheads and cops when he hangs out on the block in the wee hours of the night drinking and smoking weed. Hey, I have an easy solution for that problem: keep your ass off the block at night and get drunk and high at the crib!

U Know My Name – The final song of the evening finds TQ reppin’ for his hometown, talkin’ his shit, and random other shit. Like the rest of the album, Top Quality’s rhymes and flow are all over the place, but Jesse West’s dark and smooth instrumental comes with a bass line similar to how I like my women: nice and thick.

I’m curious what the demo sounded like that made Parrish Smith want to sign Top Quality to a deal, because I’ve been living with Magnum Opus for the past few weeks and I don’t get him. His self-proclaimed “Helen Keller shit” has the White Plains bred emcee rhyming in Pig-Latin and going on random Tourette like fits throughout the album, and his antics feel forced and gimmicky. On the flip side, the handful of producers recruited to shape the sound of Magnum Opus do a solid job handcrafting a batch of quality hip-hop instrumentals, for the most part. It’s too bad TQ didn’t make the most of them. Needless to say, Top Quality doesn’t live up to his moniker, and neither does the album to its haughty title.

-Deedub

 

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