Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na (November 19, 1996)

The first time I ever heard Foxy Brown rhyme was on LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya (Remix)” from the Mr. Smith album. Legend has it that while the production team, Trackmasters, were working on Mr. Smith, they saw Foxy performing at a Brooklyn talent show and were so impressed by her performance they invited her to the studio to jump on the remix that would match her up with Uncle L, Prodigy, Fat Joe, and Keith Murray. That impressive cameo would open the door to more opportunities for the Brooklyn-bred rapper, as she would appear on Case’s “Touch Me, Tease Me” from The Nutty Professor Soundtrack, the “Groove Remix” for Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High, Jay-Z’s “Ain’t No Nigga,” and she would join Nas, AZ, and Cormega as the First Lady of the supergroup, The Firm, making their collective debut on It Was Written’s “Affirmative Action,” where she would infamously spit some questionable drug math. With a pretty impressive cameo resume under her belt, Foxy would eventually sign with Def Jam, releasing her debut album, Ill Na Na.

Since Trackmasters were her entry point into the game, it comes as no surprise that they would be responsible for producing the majority of Ill Na Na, and along with Jay-Z, would help write a large portion of the album as well. Ill Na Na would debut at number seven on the Billboard Top 200, selling 107K its first week of release, and making Foxy the first female rapper to debut an album in the top ten. The album would produce three charting singles, one which would earn a gold plaque (more on that in a bit), and Ill Na Na would receive platinum certification less than three months after its release.

Broken record moment: I didn’t buy Ill Na Na when it came out in ‘96, but I bought a used CD copy at least a decade after its release. I’m familiar with the singles, but this will be my first time listening to Ill Na Na in its entirety. So, without further ado, let’s listen and see if Foxy’s Na Na is as ill as she claims.

Intro… Chicken CoupIll Na Na begins like a movie theater experience, as Def Jam cleverly promos a few of their upcoming projects, playing clips from Cru’s “Just Another Case” and Cormega’s “Dead Man Walking” as trailers (Cru would drop their debut album, Da Dirty 30 in ‘97, but Def Jam would shelf Cormega’s debut, The Testament, which he would release independently years later after obtaining the masters from Def Jam…but I digress), setting up Ill Na Na as the feature presentation. Apparently, Ill Na Na is a blaxploitation film, as the opening scene features a funky Isaac Hayes loop for the soundtrack and a bootleg Isaac Hayes character named Panama Slim (played by Rich Nice, who plays the narrator during the opening trailers, and was also part of Trackmasters at the time, and the first rapper ever signed to the once soul music monster label, Motown) offers Foxy advice and encouragement, which all feels like a subtle homage to Pam Grier’s super sexy seventies character that our hostess’ alias was borrowed from.

(Holy Matrimony) Letter To The Firm – Speaking of Isaac Hayes, Trackmasters build this instrumental around a beautifully somber piano loop taken from the soul singer’s record, “Ike’s Mood” (It’s been flipped several times through the years, but it’s always welcomed). Foxy uses it to pledge her loyalty to her Firm Familia and declares war on her crew’s imaginary drug dealing rivals (even though he’s not credited in the liner notes, I have a sneaking suspicion this song was ghostwritten by Nas). I wasn’t blown away by this one, but it was a decent way to start the show.

Foxy’s Bells – Foxy and the Trackmasters thought it would be a good idea to remake LL’s classic “Rock The Bells.” But even with Jay-Z’s amazing pen writing Inga’s rhymes (which includes a few clever bars), this felt blasphemous.

Get Me Home – This was the lead single from Ill Na Na. Trackmasters interpolate a portion of Eugene Wilde’s “Gotta Get You Home Tonight” and invite Blackstreet to sing the classic hook from the original. Foxy plays a girl at a club who’s spotted a guy she likes, and they spend the song’s three verses sizing each other up, flirting, and finally leave the club together. Ironically, the horny couple can’t wait to get back to his place, and our perky-breasted hostess ends up spreading her mahogany thighs open in homie’s premium petrol fueled car. This was one of many low hanging fruit shiny production hit singles that Trackmasters were able to string together in the nineties. I don’t love it, but I’ll vibe to it when it comes on during an old school mix.

The Promise – Foxy and Havoc link up for this duet that finds the two on some Bonnie and Clyde shit, exchanging murderous mafioso bars over poppin’ drums and a subdued and bleak string loop. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but I suppose it makes for decent filler.

Interlude… The Set Up – Short skit that sets up the next song…

If I… – Through Jay-Z’s pen, Foxy does a little reflecting, reminiscing, and wishing she could turn back time (shoutout to Cher). On the first verse she recalls a childhood friendship lost once she got her deal, while the second verse finds her harkening back to her first love, who was also the first to sample the ill na na and break her heart. The third verse is dedicated to her brother (I think) who lost his life to the dope game. Trackmasters loop up a Luther Vandross record to create a beautifully pensive backdrop that sounds great backing Foxy’s stories. This is definitely one the strongest records on Ill Na Na.

The Chase – The song title, Foxy’s hook, and the sound of a revving car engine laced throughout the track, imply there’s some type of high-speed chase going on, and Trackmasters provide the perfect unsettling and frantic-paced backdrop to support the song’s theme. But after several listens to this song, I have no idea what Foxy is rapping about. After she “Jumped out the ride” during the song’s opening line, all I heard was a string of brand names, a bunch of Firm references and other randomness for the next three verses. What a waste of a dope beat.

Ill Na Na – The title track finds Inga talking her shit and sex over the bass line and drums from The Commodores’ “Brick House,” while her Def Jam label mate and another contender for cameo whore of the year, Method Man, co-signs for her on the hook, boasting that she has the best pussy on the planet, as if he’s had the pleasure of sampling every living vagina. This was obviously recorded before Foxy started feuding with Lil Kim, as she shouts her Brooklyn contemporary out on the first verse (“Shakin’ my ass half-naked, lovin’ this life, waitin’ for Kim’s album to drop, knowin’ it’s tight”). It would have been nice to hear Meth get off a full verse, but it probably wouldn’t have made much sense on a song called “Ill Na Na.” Still a decent record, though.

No One’s – This record officially makes The S.O.S. Band’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” the undisputed champion of sampled records for 1996, worthy to be retired and hung in hip-hop’s rafters, as China Black and Divine Allah become the millionth producers to use it for this instrumental. Foxy doesn’t do much to make the overly used loop stand out either, as she spits mundane flossy name brand bars, while Khadijah Bass reinterprets the chorus of the original record on the hook. Next…

Fox Boogie – The legendary Kid Capri stops by to co-sign for our hostess with a few adlibs and a silly hook, while Trackmasters provide a melodic bouncy groove for Foxy, who continues to spew subpar stanzas.

I’ll Be – This was the gold-selling second single released from Ill Na Na. Trackmasters loop up another obvious eighties hit record for the backdrop (Rene & Angela’s “I’ll Be Good”), as Jay-Z assists Foxy on this one that finds her more focused on her ill na na than she’s been during the rest of the album (by the way, I love her line: “Na Na, y’all can’t touch her, my sex drive, all night like a trucker”). This is probably the best Foxy has sounded on the whole album and will forever be her biggest hit.

Outro – The album closes with the same Isaac Hayes loop from the Intro and Panama Slim sharing a few parting words, before a snippet from what sounds like a blaxploitation flick, ends the evening.

After living with Ill Na Na over the past three weeks, I’ve developed a newfound respect for rappers with writers, whom I’ve often referred to as puppets on this blog. On her debut album, Hard Core, Lil Kim was able to take Biggie’s penned bars (or reference tracks) and breathe new life into them with her personality, charisma and a welcoming voice that was very easy on the ears. On Ill Na Na, Foxy proves that all puppets aren’t created equal.

With the Trackmasters shiny and plush, commercially friendly brand of hip-hop, Jay-Z’s pen (and though he’s not credited in the liner notes, Nas’ pen as well), and the machine that was Def Jam backing her, Foxy Brown had all the pieces in place to make what could have been an incredible album. The only problem is Foxy’s performance. I like Foxy’s huskily feminine vocal tone, but much of Ill Na Na finds her spewing uninspired materialistic mafiosos raps and occasionally discussing how ill her na na is. While most rappers who were on this mafioso trend in the nineties weren’t living the life, they were able to sell it by making it sound entertaining. Most of Foxy’s bars ring hollow, sounding inauthentic and almost robotic. Speaking of mafioso, as many times as Foxy shouts out The Firm on the album, why the hell aren’t they on it?

Ill Na Na is not a horrible album, but Fox Boogie’s blah performance is far from…ill. But the album sold a shitload of records, so who cares what I think? Happy Women’s History Month!


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Mobb Deep – Hell On Earth (November 19, 1996)

After their laughable 1993 debut album, Juvenile Hell, Mobb Deep would regroup (figuratively) and in 1995 released their undisputed masterpiece, The Infamous, which just might deserve a spot in the top-ten hip-hop albums of all-time discussion (feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comment section below). Not only was The Infamous a critical darling, but it would also earn the Queensbridge duo their first gold plaque. Mobb Deep wouldn’t waste much time following it up, and in November of 1996 they would return with their third release, Hell On Earth. Random thought: Why do we refer to second albums as sophomore, but we never call third albums, junior?

While Q-Tip would lend a hand to help produce a portion of the tracks on The Infamous, Hell On Earth would be completely produced by Havoc and would also feature a handful of special guest cameo appearances. Hell On Earth would produce four singles, receive favorable reviews, and would become Mobb Deep’s second consecutive gold certified album. And many consider Hell On Earth to be just as strong an album as The Infamous.

I haven’t listened to Hell On Earth in a hot minute (no pun intended), but my ears are prepared to be bombarded with mucho amounts of thuggery.

Continue to rest easy, Prodigy.

Animal Instinct – Havoc opens Hell On Earth with a wearied string loop and a bloated bass line placed over hard-hitting drums that he, P, and a few of their Mobb members, Gambino and Ty Nitty, use to warm up for the evening, exchanging violent pleasantries (which includes Havoc threatening to “bleach blind” fools, while P’s stabbing rivals in the neck with icepicks). The duo close things out with a refrain that blames their devilish deeds on their uncontrollable animal instinct. This was a decent way to kick things off and set the tone for the evening.

Drop A Gem On ‘Em – I thought this was the lead single from Hell On Earth, but after a little research (by research, I mean Google) I discovered it was actually the second single. Havoc picks up the energy a bit with this one, mixing a haunted piano loop, a soulful pain ridden female vocal sample, and drums that kick you square in the nose. P and Hav are clearly responding to Pac and the numerous shots he fired at them on “Hit ‘Em Up” and throughout the The Don Killuminati album, as P spits: “You got a gat, you better find it, and use that shit, think fast and get reminded, of robberies in Manhattan, you know what happened, sixty G’s worth of gun clappin’, who shot ya? You probably screamed louder than an opera, New York got ya, now you wanna use my Mobb as a crutch, what you think, you can’t get bucked again?” Without saying Pac’s name, it’s clear who they’re talking about, and I found it interesting that they kept the song on the album despite Pac’s untimely demise. Regardless, this record still sounds great.

Bloodsport – Let me start by saying, I love this song title. Hav and P’s content matches it very well, as they take turns verbally blooding up their rivals, which includes another icepick reference. But the true star of this record is Hav’s simple but stellar murky production that makes the threats from these self-proclaimed “pioneers of this violent nigga rap shit” sound even more threatening.

Extortion – Mobb Deep keeps the musical vibes dark, as Havoc builds this backdrop around a moody bass line and a terrifying shrieking string loop. Method Man and his magnificent flow join Hav and P to carrying on the album’s thug theme, and after all these years, Havoc’s threat to “Dead your shorty like abortion” still makes me laugh uncomfortably. This joint is hard.

More Trife Life – This one kind of picks up where “Trife Life” from The Infamous left off, hence the song title. A horny Havoc goes solo and shares the details of a trip to get some booty that turns into a whole lot of drama for our host. I have all types of issues with Havoc’s storyline: After shorty tells Havoc that her jealous ex is in the apartment building lobby, and Hav suspects that he may be a pawn to get her ex jealous, or worse, he’s being set up for a robbery, why the hell didn’t he get out of there when she went to soak in the bathtub? Then he gets so relaxed that he falls asleep before his thirsty ass wakes up to hit it. Come on, man! You deserve to get your dumb ass tied up! Along with Havoc’s storyline being completely ludicrous, his instrumental sounds empty and incomplete.

Man Down – Big Noyd (who made some strong cameos on The Infamous) makes his first appearance of the evening, sparring with his Mobb Deep bredrin, as they partake in more hoodlum shenanigans over a basic beat and an uninteresting horn loop. The song ends with a skit that finds P sonning his homie for playing around with a gun. I didn’t hate this one, but it’s average at best. Side note: P’s mention of an icepick makes this the third icepick reference in the album’s first six songs.

Can’t Get Enough Of It – Mobb Deep introduces and allows yet another crew member to join them on the mic. This time it’s General G, and he offers up a pedestrian performance that sounds just about as generic as his alias. This wasn’t Havoc or Prodigy’s best performance of the evening either, but the seductive twangy guitar loop laced throughout the track nearly got me to strip out of my boxers, and it sounds even better if you’re listening to it while driving around at two in the morning.

Nighttime Vultures – This one begins with a snippet of what I assume to be vultures based on the song title. Then Raekwon becomes the second Wu-Tang member to pop up on Hell On Earth, as he and P swap uninteresting crime tales, while Havoc provides a futile hook and a dull instrumental to back them.

G.O.D. PT III – This was the fourth and final single released from Hell On Earth. After a ridiculous opening skit that finds one of Mobb Deep’s homies bustin’ shots out their project window at one of their rivals on the basketball court, Hav places the hauntingly dark chords from the Scarface theme music over pulsating drums to create a suspensefully spooky atmosphere that makes he and P’s murderous threats hit just a little bit harder than usual. The ultra-catchy hook (that the duo gives Lime Bacardi a free endorsement on) merges the music and rhymes together, brilliantly. This shit was epic. Easily my favorite song on Hell On Earth.

Get Dealt With – MD follows up the colossalness of the previous track with a dark slightly off kilter piano loop and snapping drums that finds P threatening to “Put a hole in” his enemy’s “face so big it nearly took his whole face off,” while Havoc takes the beef beyond the mic and disses his opp’s character: “Delete those, and keep my shit discrete, niggas is trash rhymers, totally off beat, and outta sync with they life.” Definitely one of my favs on the album.

Hell On Earth (Front Lines) – This title track was also the third single released from the album. Havoc builds the backdrop around a warm and elegant string loop and our hosts continue to paint their projects as a war zone, battling rival crews and police. Dope record, and this instrumental still sounds as amazing as it did back in ’96.

Give It Up Fast – After the sound of an airplane taking off (or landing) plays, a somber string loop accompanied by heavy drums slowly fades in. Then the listener is greeted by Nas, in full Escobar mode, spittin’ what might be his weakest cameo verse to date. Big Noyd also joins Hav and P on the mic, as all three parties follow Esco’s lead and spit subpar ruffian bars over the aimless backdrop.

Still Shinin’ – As I mentioned earlier, I thought “Drop A Gem On ‘Em” was the lead single for Hell On Earth, but this was actually the lead single. I love Prodigy’s line, “We rob land, like white man” (and he makes another icepick reference), but everything else about this track was extra mid.

Apostle’s Warning – And Mobb Deep wraps the proper album with more mid.

In The Long Run – The enhanced CD version of Hell On Earth unlocks this bonus track once placed in your computer’s CD-ROM (remember those?). The instrumental has a slightly lighter feel than the rest of the production we’ve heard on the album, as Mobb Deep and their guest, Ty Nitty, stay true to their goon grammar. Ty and Havoc’s rhymes are pretty forgettable, but Prodigy’s bars get rather interesting, as he calls out a few of his rivals by name. One being Keith Murray, as he acknowledges the infamous incident (no pun intended) where Keith punched him in the face at the legendary New York City nightclub, The Tunnel. And the other being 2pac: “You seen Strapped, came outside all hyped with gats, Got juiced up, now Bishop think he thuggin’ it, Black,” and later he threatens, “I’d murder you (referring to Keith) and 2pac for two cents,” but tastefully, they censored the entire line out due to Pac passing away before the album’s release. This was far from a great record, but definitely more intriguing than the yawn inducing ending to the proper album, “Apostle’s Warning.”

Hell On Earth finds Mobb Deep picking up right where they left off at on The Infamous, with dark musical schemes decorated with bloody bully bars, killer compositions, and a newfound affinity for icepicks. Without the significant musical contribution that Q-Tip made on the previous album, Havoc’s production sounds less layered and absent are the brief glimpses of hope, as he takes a more stripped-down minimalist approach, drowning his basic drumbeats in complete hopelessness and despair, and most of it sounds great. Lyrically, Havoc continues to improve, as he sounds sharper than he did on The Infamous, while Prodigy spews decent thug stanzas, but they don’t sting with the same venom or sound as menacing and authentically bleak as they did on the previous outing.

Mobb Deep’s thug themes start to get tedious by the home stretch of Hell On Earth, and Havoc’s sparse sonic style, while mostly effective, leaves a few too many barren pockets on the album for it to be mentioned in the same breath as The Infamous. Yet, it’s still a solid album from the QB duo, who should be commended for sticking to their guns. Both figuratively and literally.


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The Almighty RSO – Doomsday: Forever RSO (November 19, 1996)

The Almighty RSO was a Boston-based collective made of up DJ Deff Jeff (not to be confused with the emcee and west coast transplant, Def Jef), E-Devious, MC Rock, Tony Rhome (not to be confused with Tony Romo or Tony Roma…whatever happened to that restaurant chain?), and Ray Dog aka Benzino, who you may remember from his shady Source Magazine involvement (which included he and his crew beating up some of the publication’s writers for their unflattering critique of RSO’s music, and later becoming part owner and ruining the magazine’s credibility and reputation due to his own personal biases and beefs), his feud with Eminem, or if you watch TV with your lady sometimes, like myself, you may recognize him as one of the cast members from Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. RSO, which is a double meaning acronym (Rock Shit On and Real Strong Organization, depending on which day of the week you ask them), started to bubble locally in the mid-eighties, before catching the attention of Tommy Boy Records, who would sign them to a deal. No music would be released during their Tommy Boy stretch, and shortly after signing the deal, MC Rock would be stabbed to death in a night club. After leaving Tommy Boy, RSO had a brief stint as part of Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit, which would lead to them getting a record on the 1993 Flavor Unit compilation album, Roll Wit Tha Flava. RSO would soon sign a deal with RCA, where they would drop an EP, Revenge Of Da Badd Boyz, in 1994. Like the Tommy Boy deal, the RCA one wouldn’t last long and eventually, RSO would sign with J Prince’s legendary Houston label, Rap-A-Lot Records, where they would release their debut full-length album and the subject of today’s post, Doomsday: RSO Forever.

One of the perks that comes with signing with Rap-A-Lot is having access to some of their in-house producers, and RSO would take advantage, as Crazy C (whose name you may recognize for his work with Scarface’s early output amongst others) would produce a chunk of the album’s tracks and The Hangmen 3 (which is the Boston-based production team comprised of Benzino, Jeff Two Times, and Johnny Bananas) would handle a large portion of the rest. Doomsday would also include production from a few other esteemed producers and feature a handful of special guest cameos that we’ll get into in a bit. Doomsday would produce two singles with one of them peaking at ten on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs charts, but the album failed to produce strong sells numbers. Ironically, Doomsday would mark the end of the group and RSO would be, done, forever (Benzino and E-Devious would re-emerge a few years later as part of a group called Made Men, but that experiment wouldn’t last long either).

I found a used copy of Doomsday in the dollar bins (ninety-five cents to be exact) at one of the used music spots I peruse, and when I saw some of the featured guests listed on the back of the jewel case, I figured it would be worth the gamble. Like most of my reviews in the past few months, Doomsday is another one that’ll be listening to for the first time with this post. So, let’s get into it.

Doomsday Intro – After the sound of a blunt being lit, the listener is greeted with dark cinematic chords, as Benzino welcomes us all to the album and shows love to his RSO bredrin with an overly used demonic vocal distortion placed over his voice.

Forever RSO – Benzino, Tony Rhome, and E-Devious use the first song of the evening to give a brief group bio, highlighting their ups and downs (which includes Tony getting locked up, the death of MC Rock, getting dropped from record labels, and beatin’ down writers from The Source) and pledging their allegiance to The Almighty RSO. Rap-A-Lot affiliate producer, John Bido, gets credit for the smooth southern fried instrumental (with a co-credit going to a Pee-Wee), and I absolutely love the slippery wah-wah guitar licks laced throughout the track.

The War’s On – RSO invites Mobb Deep to join them on the album’s lead single that was originally released on the Original Gangstas Soundtrack in April of the same year. Prodigy (rip) joins Benzino, E-Devious, and Tony Rhome on the mic, and of course if P is involved the record has a thug/crime theme. Havoc stays behind the boards and serves up an airy canvas with a raw melodic touch for RSO and his partner in crime to paint violent hood tales, with middling results.

Thought You Knew – After an array of guns shot ring off during the opening skit, Crazy C (with a co-production credit going to Terrance “Bearwolf” Williams) drops a smooth southern marinated groove that sounds custom made for Scarface to rhyme over (I can hear Face hittin’ it with his “I Seen A Man Die” cadence), but instead Benzino and Tony use it to exchange mediocre threats of murder.

Gotta Be A Better Way – This one finds RSO sharing more crime tales, but unlike the stories they’ve shared previously on Doomsday, this time they’re questioning their moves and contemplating finding safer and more productive means to make a living. I like the message, the shiny synthesized chords, the bangin’ bass line, and Keva’s soothing vocals on the hook make everything easier to digest.

Summer Knightz – E-Devious and his horrible-aliased guest, Tangg Da Juice, express their love and appreciation for drama free summer nights, even though the ebonicly misuse of the word “Knightz” in the song title might lead you to believe this is an ode to medieval warriors in iron body armor battling in June and August). The Hangmen 3 back up the duo’s sufficient bars with a sparkling instrumental built around a loop from The Isley Brothers’ classic, “Voyage To Atlantis” and some West Coast siren notes, making for an overly polished, but decent record.

Sanity – The SOS Band’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” had to have been the most sampled record in hip-hop in 1996, as I’ve already mentioned it at least four times in my write-ups for the year. Well, make this the fifth, as The Hangmen 3 loop it up once again to soundtrack this song. RSO uses the bubbly backdrop to discuss how mentally taxing the street life can get, years before mental health would become a sexy subject. Our hosts invite D-Ruff to drive home the struggle with his husky crooning, and I actually enjoyed this one.

You’ll Never Know – After a short snippet plays from the mob movie, Miller’s Crossing, Crazy C chefs up some dark deranged gumbo that RSO uses to let the listener, and any would be rivals know that they’re ready for and welcoming of all smoke, while Mad Lion drops in to co-sign for his “hell bound” friends with a little raspy Dancehall chant towards the end of the record. Interestingly and somewhat annoyingly, all of RSO’s curses are censored on this record, which I’m sure had to do with sample clearance. Overall, a decent album cut.

You Could Be My Boo – This was the second single from Doomsday. The song opens with a skit that finds E-Devious calling his girl, excuse me, boo, and telling her to get rid of the work he stashed under her bed the night before, as word on the street is there’s a snitch trying to get him knocked. Then a soft R&B radio friendly instrumental drops (which sounds nothing like something Crazy C would produce), accompanied by Faith Evans’ vocals on the adlibs and hook, as E goes on a dolo mission, listing a plethora of reasons why he loves and appreciates his boo: “When you around my niggas everything be like, what up? You know when to talk and you know when to shut up, you aint scared of guns, and you know how to use it, you love Rap City, and you love rap music, and when we fight, you go for yours, you don’t be duckin’, you so wild, you smoke a blunt while we fuckin’, you hate the cops with a passion, you like one of my niggas, but in a female fashion.” I’m not usually a fan of these bubble gum radio formulated records, and Faith Evans sounds like she mailed her performance in, but E-Devious’ unintentionally humorous rhymes delivered in his “dead ass serious” tone, kept me entertained.

Mix Of Action – The Hangmen 3 build this darkly tinted boom-bap production around a slick Roy Ayers loop, while DJ Deff Jeff adds Premo-esque cuts to the track, and Benzino, E, and Tony boast of their addiction to stay in the mist of hood drama. Speaking of addiction, I’m hooked on this instrumental.

Keep Alive – This one begins with a clip from A Bronx Tale, then RSO and their guest, Cool Gsus, use this one to remind all the street hustlers to move wisely while they’re out there doing their dirt. E-Devious gets off what might be the best bars on the album with: “And to my niggas doing crime in the hood, on the heels of the O.J. verdict, it don’t look good, if it don’t fit, you must acquit, but for niggas like you and me, that’s a bunch of bullshit, when we workin’ with some public counsel imitators, we can’t afford no Dream Team litigators.” The underappreciated Kay Gee from Naughty By Nature, provides a creamy reflective groove to support our hosts’ hood advice.

Illicit Activity – Now here’s an unlikely pairing. Memphis’ very own, 8Ball & MJG join forces with E, Benzino, and Tony, as each party gets a turn to talk his shit. E reps RSO the strongest, contributing solid bars, but 8Ball & MJG steal the show, sounding right at home as they flaunt their southern flavor over the West Coast G-Funkish backdrop, courtesy of Smoke One Productions. This was dope, and yet another reminder that I’ve got to check out 8Ball & MJG’s catalog.

Killin’ ‘Em – Tony Rhome gets a solo joint. Crazy C and DJ Storm throw him a sneaky bell heavy mid-tempo beat that finds our host screaming very forgettable bars. The instrumental was decent, but there’s really no reason to listen to this one more than once.

One In Tha Chamba – RSO offers up a revolutionary response to police brutality: firing back at the bastards. The Hangmen 3 build the instrumental around a familiar but always welcomed Blackbyrds loop (see Kurious’ “I’m Kurious” and Paris’ “Days Of Old”), as RSO is joined by M.O.P and Smif-N-Wessun (who were forced to change their group name to Cocoa Brovaz at the time due to trademark issues) to bust shots back at the power abusive pigs. Rest in peace to George Floyd and Tyre Nichols.

Quarter Past Nine – Like mogwai turn into gremlin if fed after midnight and Cinderella’s magical spell ends at 12am, apparently, RSO turns into blood thirsty diabolical killers as soon as the clock strikes 9:15pm (is that eastern standard time or central?). The fellas invite Cool Gsus, M3 and the reggae stylings of (what might be the greatest alias of all time) Fuckamon, while a female vocalist simply credited as Courtney, adds harmony on the hook to accompany RSO’s flying bullets. The content wasn’t riveting, but the instrumental is hard.

We’ll Remember You – RSO closes out Doomsday with a soulfully pensive Doc Doom/Mad House concoction, as Zino, E, and Tony reflect and reminisce about the comrades they’ve lost to the streets and prison, which also includes a shoutout to the late group member, MC Rock. It’s hard to mess up these types of dedication songs, and this one goes down rather smoothly.

I’ll be honest. Going into this review, I had very low expectations for Doomsday: Forever RSO. Mainly due to Benzino and all of his cornball antics through the years, plus their “Badd Boyz” record from the Roll Wit Tha Flava compilation album wasn’t all that impressive. But after several listens to the album over the past three weeks, surprisingly, Doomsday doesn’t sound nearly as bad as I expected it to.

E-Devious proves to be the strongest of the crew on the mic, while Benzino and Tony Rhome offer meager rhyming throughout Doomsday. But even with E’s efficient skills, collectively, RSO’s gangsta/street life themes ring hollow and pale in comparison with some of their more talented contemporaries who drive in the same thug lane. Thankfully, RSO was wise enough to spread around enough great guest cameos on the album to keep things flowing even when their own flows stall. More than anything, it’s the production on Doomsday that brings the album respectability. Led by Crazy C and The Hangmen 3 behind the boards, Doomsday tantalizes the listener’s ear with southern fried slaps, traditional East Coast boom bap, West Coast synth, and a little polished pop R&B flavor thrown in to appeal to the masses. Doomsday has no musical cohesion, but variety is the spice of life, and there are plenty of tasty spices sprinkled into this sonic smorgasbord.

Doomsday is not a classic and will never be found on anyone’s “Must Hear Before You Die” list, but it comes with some entertainment value. Well worth the ninety-five cents I paid for admission.


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Eminem – Infinite (November 12, 1996)

Like most musical genres, hip-hop has seen several great white hope rappers through the years, whose lack of melanin and ability to rhyme over a beat (no matter how average the rhyming is) automatically garners them more attention, praise, and notoriety than their darker counterparts, even if the darker counterpart plainly displays a stronger rhyming aptitude than their Caucasian contemporaries. Some of these melanin challenged rappers randomly stumbled into the genre, while others were clearly processed and manufactured by record companies to make a dollar. Then there are those who came into the fold organically with a genuine passion for the artform and the talent to match. And one of these elite few deserves to be mentioned in the GOAT conversation. Eminem.

We’ve all heard how Marshall Mathers aka Eminem went from Detroit battle rap legend to getting his demo in the hand of Interscope founder, Jimmy Iovine, who would put the demo into the hand of Dr. Dre, and with the good doctor’s backing, he would become, arguably the biggest superstar in hip-hop’s storied history (if you’re not familiar with the story, check out the Netflix documentary, The Defiant Ones and hear it told directly from the mouths of Jimmy, Dre, and Em). But before Dr. Dre, the fame, the accolades and the crossover commercial success, Eminem was not only battle rapping in Detroit, but also creating and recording records. In November of 1996, he would release his debut album, Infinite.

Infinite features eleven tracks, all produced by Mr. Porter (aka Kon Artis, aka Denaun), who along with Eminem was a member of the Detroit collective, D12. The album was originally released on the small Detroit based label, Web Entertainment, and legend has it that Em was selling vinyl and cassette copies of the album out of his trunk, a la Too Short in the early eighties. Needless to say, few outside of the Detroit area were familiar with the Infinite album or even knew it existed before Em’s blow-up, including myself.

A few years ago, I found a used cd copy of Infinite, which included a bonus disc of the Slim Shady EP, which also happens to be the demo that would get into the hands of and impress Jimmy and Dre (I might discuss that one at a later date). The album cover is a thick super basic two-sided insert with the simple artwork that you see above on one side and the track listing with no credits on the other side. My copy doesn’t even have a back panel in the jewel case, which leaves me to believe I may have paid twenty bucks for a bootleg burned CD.

Now that’s shady.

Infinite – The first song of the evening features a drowsily melodic backdrop with a bloated bass line that reminds me of the instrumental for Nas’s “One On One” record from the Streetfighter Soundtrack. Speaking of Nas, you can definitely hear he and AZ’s influence on Em’s wordplay and flow, as he showcases his already polished emcee attributes with a more straight forward approach than we would grow accustomed to hearing from him: “My thesis’ll, smash a stereo to pieces, my acappella releases, classic masterpieces, through telekinesis, it eases you mentally, gently, sentimentally, instrumentally with entity, dementedly, meant to be, infinite.” The hooks is some overly wordy nonsense, but this was still a solid way to kick the evening off.

WEGO (Interlude) – This interlude takes a clip from a show on the Detroit radio station WEGO, hosted by MC Proof (rip) and DJ Head that introduces the next song. The background music is hard.

It’s Okay – Over a semi-melancholic jazzy groove, Em sounds like a man with a dream trying his damnedest to hold on to it while the trials and tribulations of life try to snatch it from his grasp: “Life is stressful inside this cesspool, tryin’ to wrestle, I almost bust a blood vessel, my little brother’s tryin’ to learn his mathematics, he’s asthmatic, runnin’ home from school away from crack addicts, kids attract static, children with automatics, takin’ target practice on teens for Starter jackets, I’m using smarter tactics to overcome this slum, I won’t become as dumb as some, and succumb to scum, it’s cumbersome, I’m tryna do well on this earth, but it’s been hell on this earth, since I fell on this earth.” Em joins the exclusive list on TimeIsIllmatic of emcees to use a word you’ll probably never hear another rapper use in his rhymes, when he breaks out “cumbersome;” and this might be the only record that Em has ever voiced his desire to be “a family man, happily married” and professes to have “found Christianity.” Em’s homeboy, Eye-Kyu adds a simple but effective hook, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying this one.

Tonite – Mr Porter builds this backdrop around a buoyant soulful loop, as our host continues to flaunt his witty wordplay and damn near effortless flow.

313 – I’m sure most of you know, but if you don’t, “313” is the Detroit area code from which our host represents, hence the song title. Em invites his buddy, Eye-Kyu to warm things up with the opening verse, and he does a solid job with the opportunity. Then Em takes care of the second verse, displaying some of the witty punchlines that made him a legendary battle rapper in the Detroit streets (i.e. “I’ll run your brain around the block to jog your fuckin’ memory,” “You could date a stick of dynamite and wouldn’t go out with a bang,” “He better come cleaner than Jeru jackin’ off when he showers,” and one of my favorites: “You couldn’t make the fans throw up their hands if they swallowed their fingers”), before ending the verse with a well plotted Jack & Jill riddle that I’ve literally chuckled at every time I’ve listened to this song in the past three weeks: “Cause you could be quick, jump the candlestick, burn your back, and fuck Jill on a hill, but you still aint jack.” Mr. Porter backs the witty wordsmanship with a subdued jazzy backdrop that some might find boring, but I found irresistible.

Maxine – Em is joined by Mr. Porter and Three on this one, as the trio each get off a verse sharing their perspective and experience with a promiscuous chick named Maxine. Em paints her as a dope fiend hooker, Mr. Porter frames her as an irresponsible club hoppin’ mother, and Three (who sounds like a less skilled mix of Fatlip and Imani from Pharcyde) knows her as a random freak he met at the club. But they all can agree that Maxine has AIDS. The song’s concept wasn’t fleshed out well (and Mr. Porter’s closing conversation with Maxine is completely asinine: He calls her and leads with “(Are) you thinking about suckin’ my dick?” then gets upset when she asks for compensation for the deed, and then he decides to bring up the fact that she has AIDS…why the hell did you call her to suck your dick knowing she has AIDS in the first place, ya big dummy?!!!!), but I enjoyed the super sedated soulful instrumental.

Open MicInfinite makes quite an energy shift with this track. Mr. Porter lays a slippery Curtis Mayfield guitar loop over crashing drums, while an enthusiastic Thyme (not to be confused with the herb), accompanied by a great Treach vocal snippet, boosts the energy on the hook, and our host continues to teach a clinic on wordplay and lyricisms.

Never Far – This one starts with Em and Mr. Porter trying to gather up enough change to catch the bus, before the feel good melodic instrumental drops and Em gets off two verses discussing his focus and determination to become a successful rapper. He also adds a positive hook, encouraging the listeners to chase their dreams as well. I like hearing an optimistic Eminem; and in hindsight, it’s heartwarming to hear him speak his dream into existence.

Searchin’ – This one catches Eminem sharing a rare tender moment on wax. Our host and his guest, Eye-Kyu, have both been smitten by Cupid’s arrow, as they each get off a verse professing their love for the girls of their dreams, while Angela Workman sprinkles her pretty vocals over the heartwarming instrumental. This was clearly a formulated effort to appeal to the female fanbase, but it was done tastefully, and I actually like it.

Backstabber – Em takes a comical approach to addressing backstabbers, as he plays a police sergeant looking to apprehend a green-haired mentally unstable sword yielding joker who’s escaped from the psychiatric ward: “He’ll stab you with a sword, don’t be fooled by his charm, he’s probably armed, with intent to do bodily harm, ring the alarm, look for a man with green hair, check at your girl’s house, he was last seen there, he has a mean stare, but usually cracks jokes, good luck on your mission and guard your backs, folks.” Clever concept, funky beat, and The Three Stooges inspired “Why I oughta” snippet during the hook was pretty amusing.

Jealously Woes IIInfinite wraps with an ultra-bassy backdrop that Em uses to give the reasons why his toxic relationship went sour (tapping your girl’s phone conversations through the heat vents is wild). He also sneakily uses the n-word, thanks to a clever Nas soundbite, and we also get a Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post, when he quotes one of Phife’s lines from “Butter.” Em definitely didn’t save the best for last, but it still makes for a decent record.

Infinite captures Eminem before his colorfully unhinged alter ego, Slim Shady would take over his soul and music, as we hear from an optimistic, slightly naïve Marshall, not yet jaded by the bullshit of the music industry and the world. Em takes a more poker-faced approach to rhyming on Infinite, but even without his shock jock Slim Shady antics, it’s clear from the jump that this Detroit trailer park raised emcee can rhyme his ass off. Em makes light work of Mr. Porter’s quality batch of jazz and soulful boom-bop slaps, bodying them with his incredible wordplay, witty rhymes, and overall mastery of the English language, encapsulated in his relentless flow that transcends color, race, or creed.

There are several Eminem records from the Slim Shady LP through the Encore era that I love (we’ll discuss the latter portion of his catalog on a later date), but if my memory serves me correct, none of them were phenomenal albums. Infinite has an organic, less gimmicky feel than the rest of his catalog, and pound for pound, it might be Eminem’s most entertaining album.


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Lil’ Kim – Hard Core (November 12, 1996)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post off by sending a rest in peace to David “Trugoy” Jolicoeur (aka Dove) of the legendary trio, De La Soul, who passed away this past weekend. Thank you for your contribution to the genre we call hip-hop. Rest easy, big fella.

After his landmark 1994 debut album, Ready To Die blew up and made him a legitimate contender to wear the imaginary crown and sit on the fictitious throne as King of New York, Biggie selflessly went back and helped his crew of peasants, Junior M.A.F.I.A., get a record deal with Big Beat/Atlantic. In 1995, JM would release their debut album, Conspiracy, which would go on to earn the Brooklyn collective a gold plaque. Biggie’s guest appearances on the album would play a huge part (no pun intended) in the success of Conspiracy, but the breakout star on the album would be the lone female voice in the group, Lil’ Kim. Kim’s gangster tales and her confidence to flaunt her sexuality with aggression would soon lead to her signing a solo deal with Beat Beat/Atlantic (I’m still baffled to why Puffy didn’t sign JM to Bad Boy, and then even after their successful album, he passed on a solo deal with Kim), releasing her debut album, Hard Core in November of ‘96.

Even though Hard Core wasn’t released on Bad Boy, the label’s presence would be felt, as Puffy and his Hit Men would produce a handful of the album’s songs, along with some other esteemed producers lending a helping hand as well. Hard Core would produce three Billboard charting hit singles (with one earning a gold certification and another, platinum) and would earn the Brooklyn rapper a platinum plaque, and to date it has been certified double platinum.

Yet another album I didn’t check for back in ‘96, though I am familiar with a handful of its tracks. But if the album cover is any indication of how the music will sound, this should be an interesting listen.

Intro In A-Minor – The title’s an uncomfortable play on words that I’m sure would pique the interest of R. Kelly. This skit finds a young buck making his way to a movie theater (remember those?) to check out Lil’ Kim in action, and the movie concludes with a very happy ending. The cab driver’s response to receiving a ten-cent tip makes me laugh every time I listen to this.

Big Momma Thang – Stretch Armstrong builds a deep funk groove around a funky Sylvester loop (the same one Kane flipped for the Intro to Taste Of Chocolate) and Kim gets right to the shits, remixing a bar from her mentor (see Biggie’s “The What” from the Ready To Die album) with her opening line: “I used to be scared of the dick, now I throw lips to the shit, handle it like a real bitch.” She proceeds to take the listener on a lyrical sexcapade, discussing how much she enjoys anal, receiving head, and requires multiple orgasms during sex (twenty-four to be exact, and “that’s when she’s fuckin’ with the average nigga”). And that all goes down during the first verse. Jay-Z interrupts this porn session with a cute verse lusting over the Queen B (and I’m not talking about Beyonce), before our hostess comes back and finishes things off with a steamy second scene. Lil’ Cease joins Kim on the simple but effective hook, and I’m completely invested after this stimulating opening track. Pass the popcorn.

No Time – This was the lead single from Hard Core. Kim continues to explicitly embrace her sexuality (She brags about putting the “dick to jaw” and “drinkin’ babies”) and gets into her materialistic bag as well. Puffy (who along with Stevie J gets the production credit) pops up to handle the corny hook and gets off a few bars, while the Biggie adlibs sound like they were references mistakenly left in during the final mix. Kim sounds decent enough, but I’ve always hated the airy strings mixed in with the funky Myra Barnes loop.

Spend A Little Doe – This one starts with Kim confronting her man/baby’s father, who apparently went MIA while she was locked up for three years for transporting his dope. Then Kim gets into her woman scorned bag and looks to repay him for his betrayal. Ski Beatz’ mournful and bluesy backdrop, along with the somber notes from Fela on the hook and adlibs, help sell Kim’s rhymes and storyline.

Take It! – This skit finds Biggie, Cease, and Trife taking part in a little locker room banter, which sets up the next song.

Crush On You – The album version of this song is oddly a Lil’ Cease solo joint with Kim nowhere to be found, as Cease spends three verses trying to impress his crush enough to get her in bed over an irresistible mellow groove. The remix (which was also the version used for the single) is a duet with Kim and Cease, and their exchange makes the song way more interesting to listen to than the O.G. mix.

Drugs – Kim invites the listener to indulge in a “different kind of high,” referring to her rhymes that she alleges are as addictive as drugs, while Biggie compares her bars to different strands of weed on the hook. I wasn’t crazy about Kim’s rhymes, but the sexy guitar licks in Fabian Hamilton’s instrumental were definitely appealing.

Scheamin’ – This skit features a crew of trifling chicks looking for some unassuming chump to fuck and suck out of his money. Kind of like what Cardi B admitted to doing back when she was a stripper.

Queen Bitch – Carlos Broady and Nashiem Myrick build this brilliant instrumental around an ill Roberta Flack piano loop, and Kim rides the dark chords and drums with the mastery that I imagine (or fantasies) she rides a monster cock: “Kill a nigga for the figure, how you figure? Your cheddar would be better, Beretta inside a Beretta, nobody do it better, Bet I wet ya, like hurricanes and typhoons, got buffoons, eatin’ my pussy while I watch cartoons, sleep til noon, rap Pam Grier’s here, baby drinkers beware, mostly Dolce she wear, Frank kill niggas wives, for one point five, while you struggle and strive, we pick witch Benz to drive.” Big interrupts Kim’s second verse and gets off two quick, simple, but potent bars (“You niggas got some audacity, you sold a million now you’re half of me, get off my dick, kick it bitch”) leaving you yearning for more lyrical wizardry from Mr. Frank White (there’s actually a reference track of Biggie rapping the whole song that you can easily find on YouTube, which is pretty interesting). This is easily the best song on Hard Core.

Dreams – Kim remakes Biggie’s hilarious Ready To Die promotional single of the same name, but instead of female R&B singers, Kim names a few of the male R&B crooners whose sausages she’d like to sample, which includes: Troop, Brian McKnight, Babyface, Prince (who catches a hi-larious line), Joe, D’Angelo, and that Pied Piper guy (with the emphasis on the “pied”) whose name I won’t mention, and in hindsight, I’m sure Kim wishes she didn’t either. Our hostess also calls out the name of a bunch of lesser known acts or one hit wonders: Men Of Vision, Mista (the group and the solo act), J’Son, All 4 One (“And one for all, I swear to God I’d never fuck with none of ya’ll”); but it’s the short-lived group named Ladae who catches the best line: “Fuck dem Ladae cats, they wack, and one them resemble Craig Mack” (and if you’re like me and don’t remember what the Ladae group members looked like, Google their pic and you’ll see exactly who Kim is talking about while you bust out in laughter). Adilah cosigns for Queen B on the hook, while Prestige provides a funky little bop to support Kim’s sensual and amusing rhymes.

M.A.F.I.A. Land – Brent “Faraoh” Toussaint provides a dark cinematic canvas, punctuated by a grumpy bass line that Kim uses to paint a tale of her life in the underworld. I love the callousness of the instrumental, but Kim’s gangster tales ring as hollow as an empty water bottle (bars!).

We Don’t Need It – This was originally released earlier in ’96 on the Sunset Park Soundtrack. Lil Cease, Kim, and Trife (who recycles Kim’s “Dick to jaw” and “Drinkin’ babies” lines from “No Time”) each spit (no pun intended) a verse on this ode to oral sex. I didn’t care much for the rhymes or the crassly immature hook, but Minnesota’s chilled melodic backdrop was kind of nice.

Not Tonight – Jermaine Dupri gets his lone production credit of the night, building this polished instrumental around an eighties George Benson sample (“Turn Your Love Around”), while the comical hook reimagines a portion of a refrain from one of Marvin Gaye’s last hits (“Sexual Healing”). Kim gets off three humorously erotic verses that she best sums up during the final verse: “The moral of the story is this: you ain’t lickin’ this, you ain’t stickin’ this.” Definitely one of my favorite joints on the album.

Player Haters – This skit sets up the next song…

Fuck You – Kim invites a couple of her Junior Mafia bredrin, Trife & Larceny (aka The Snakes) to join her on this one, as the trio address the player haters from the previous skit. Biggie (who has a few words to say after Kim’s verse, which made me believe he was going to bless us with a verse), and Cornbread are credited with the simple but sinister backdrop. This was far from spectacular, but still a decent way to close out the album.

Hard Core finds Lil’ Kim building on the success she had with Conspiracy, as she takes center stage with the spotlight shining brightly on her vagina. Powered by Biggie’s pen, cadence, and flow (he only receives a writing credit for “Fuck You,” but it’s obvious that he wrote the majority of her rhymes, and there are accessible reference tracks to support this claim), and her own sheer confidence, Kim fills the album’s fifteen tracks with materialism, mafioso rhetoric, and sex talk, with an emphasis on the sex talk. While Kim was far from discreet with her sexuality on Conspiracy, she was not nearly as blunt and brash with her dick devouring themes and pussy poppin’ exploits as she is on Hard Core. But sex sells, and Kim sells the raunchy aura well, and the great batch of instrumentals in the background make Kim’s verbal porn even more entertaining to listen to.

I’ve never been a huge fan of rappers with ghostwriters, as I’ve always felt it cheapens the artistry. But even with Biggie playing Geppetto, Kim’s charisma and convincing sex kitten performance almost takes on a life of its own. Porn-occhio.


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Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather (November 12, 1996)

Alongside his mentor, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg made quite the first impression with his cool persona and smooth flow on the 1992 title track for the Deep Cover Soundtrack (shoutout to the underappreciated, Larry Fishburne). Snoop would build on the “Deep Cover” momentum with an outstanding contribution to Dr. Dre’s 1992 classic, The Chronic, and the following year he would release his own classic with his debut solo album, Doggystyle. Snoop seemed to have the world in the palm of his hand, as he was quickly becoming a superstar, but he was also facing legal charges that could have him sent away for a very long time. Snoop and his bodyguard were charged with the 1993 murder of a rival gang member who his bodyguard allegedly shot while Snoop was driving the car the shots were fired from. But thanks to Suge Knight and Death Row, Snoop was able to obtain the services of Johnnie Cochran (rip) to defend him and his bodyguard, and they were both acquitted in February of 1996. With all of his legal troubles behind him, Snoop could finally focus on the music, but he’d have to do it without his mentor, Dr. Dre, who left Death Row earlier in ‘96. Almost exactly three years after Doggystyle’s release, Snoop would finally return with his sophomore effort, Tha Doggfather.

With Dre no longer maestroing the music, Snoop would have to look elsewhere for beats to back his rhymes. Tha Doggfather would take an all-hands-on deck approach to production, with instrumentals from the likes of DJ Pooh, Warren G, Daz Dillinger and a host of others. The album would go on to receive mostly favorable reviews, and it would climb to number one on both the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and the Billboard Top 200. In January of 1997, less than sixty days after its release, Tha Doggfather would be certified double platinum. As the thoroughly documented story goes, Snoop and Suge would begin to beef, which would spell the end of the road for Snoop at Death Row, as he would defect to Master P’s No Limit label next. But things would come full circle in February of 2022, when Snoop would become the owner of Death Row Records. Time is, truly, illmatic.

I was a huge fan of The Chronic and Doggystyle (both of which deserve top ten hip-hop album of all-time consideration), so I’m not sure why I didn’t buy Tha Doggfather way back when it came out back in ‘96. I found a used copy a few years back and this post marks my first time listening to it, so let’s see how this goes.

Side note: In Tha Doggfather liner notes, Snoop dedicates two full pages to 2Pac (and shouts him out in his “Thank You’s”), which is probably the first acknowledgement and memorial to the fallen rapper by an artist on an album.

IntroTha Doggfather begins with elegant strings playing behind a collage of news reports about Snoop’s legal woes. Then our host shares a quick blip before the next song begins.

Doggfather – This was the third single released from Tha Doggfather. Daz lays down a smooth groove that falls somewhere in between sounding sultry and spooky. Snoop sounds refreshed after his forced hiatus, as he talks a little shit, briefly addresses his murder case (“Man I’m on this paper chase, like them white boy D.A.’s was on the case, but you know I ain’t tryna floss, but uh, murder, murder, murder was the case that they lost”) and celebrates his return to the mic; and his smooth nasally flow sounds as slick as his perm looks on the album cover and liner notes. Charlie Wilson contributes his always welcomed strong vocals to the hook (and an uncredited female vocalist sprinkles some pretty adlibs at end of the track as well), serving as the cherry on top of this enjoyable opening record.

Ride 4 Me – This short skit finds Snoop trying to convince a young gangsta (who sounds like he’s trying to earn some stripes) to run up in a rival’s crib and shoot him up, to which the young buck obliges. Interesting skit for someone who just beat a murder case, but whatever.

Up Jump Tha Boogie – DJ Pooh (aka Red from Friday) gets his first production credit of the evening, as he slides Snoop and Kurupt a decent synthed-up backdrop to rhyme over. I found it pretty hypocritical for Snoop to rap lines like “You put it in their head (referring to the young homies), that at thirteen their better off dead” and “Before I give a nigga a nine, I’d rather give a nigga a mic and write ‘em a rhyme,” after his shenanigans on the previous skit, but who am I to judge? The liner notes credit Charlie Wilson and Teena Marie for this track, but after at least fifteen listens to this song in the past three weeks, I don’t hear either one of them. This was passable, but far from potent enough to be sequenced this early in the album.

Freestyle Conversation – This one starts with some random cat approaching Snoop and telling him that without Dre in the Death Row camp his beats are going to be delicate (which I found hi-larious for some reason), to which Snoop doesn’t respond kindly to (his exact words are: “I don’t give a fuck about no beat!”). Then Soopafly’s intense instrumental, built around dramatic key stabs, drops and Snoop spits three freestyle verses in conversational form, but it sounds more like a rambling demo session. The instrumental was solid, but Snoop sounds horrible on this one.

When I Grow Up – Not sure what the point of this skit was, but…moving on…

Snoop Bounce – DJ Pooh interpolates Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce,” giving it a rubbery, slightly zany makeover. Snoop spits passable rhymes and pays respect to EPMD and their classic record, “You Gots To Chill” (which was also built around a sample of Zapp’s hit record) on a few of his bars, while Charlie Wilson fills in the bald spots and the hook with a little crooning. I appreciate the EPMD homage, but I don’t want to hear Snoop rapping over a lazy remake of “More Bounce To The Ounce.”

Gold Rush – Snoop is joined by his band of outlaws (Kurupt, Techniec and Badd Azz) on this road trip to the Gold Rush, as they collectively form the fearless four horsemen, mixing hood shit with clever cowboy references and lingo on this gangsta and western musical (Snoop: “Ain’t no John Wayne, these niggas gangbang”). All four parties sound locked in and committed to the theme (Bad Azz sounds like a completely different man than the sleepy sedated rapper we heard on the lackadaisical “Krazy” from Makaveli’s 7 Day Theory) and the brilliantly rugged rock-tinged backdrop (credited to a duo I’ve never heard of before, Arkim & Flair) sounds amazing supporting their wild west content. I was waiting for the cameo whore of the year candidate, Sadat X to show up for this posse cut (no pun intended), considering the song concept and all. But no cigar.

(Tear ‘Em Off) Me & My Doggz – After a short news clip plays of a crying woman explaining to a reporter how bad a dog injured her husband, Snoop gets off a couple of verses about his dogs, human and canine. Snoop sounds like he just woke up from or is getting ready for a nap, as he spits what sounds like an off the top freestyle or best-case scenario, a written rough draft. Either way, this was dog pooh, and L.T.’s wacky backdrop only makes matters worse.

You Thought – DJ EZ Dick (rip to Ricky Harris) from Doggystyle’s W-Ballz makes his first appearance of the evening on this skit that sets up the song. Snoop invites Soopafly (who also receives credit for the instrumental) and Too Short to join him on this, as DJ EZ Dick calls it in the intro, “Pimp fun under the sun,” which is really just code for musical misogyny. All Snoop’s big girl fetish talk gave me visions of Kyle and Rhonda’s (rip) bed scene in Road Trip, and if you’re going to objectify women on a hip-hop song, you might as well invite the best to ever do it, Too Short, who also makes sure to get off his signature “beeatch” just before starting his verse. The trio didn’t cover any new ground, but I did enjoy the enormous jazzy horn stabs in Soopafly’s instrumental.

Vapors – This remake of Biz Markie’s (rip) classic record of the same name was also the second single off Tha Doggfather. Snoop swaps out TJ Swan, Big Daddy Kane, Cool V and Biz Markie’s rags to riches stories with verses about Nate Dogg (rip), Daz, Warren G and himself, making just enough tweaks and adjustments in the rhymes to make it his own. Now this is the proper way to page homage to a legend and his classic record.

Groupie – After a super questionable opening skit that would never fly in today’s social media driven world, Snoop and the gang try to rekindle the playful magic they created on “Ain’t No Fun” from Doggystyle. Daz (who along with Dre and Warren G received production credit for “Ain’t No Fun”) hooks up a warm, seductive G-Funk groove that he, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Warren G and Snoop rap about a few different lady groupies they’ve entertained. Uncle Charlie once again lends his timeless vocals to enhance the hook and sprinkles the track with tasteful adlibs. It’s not as classic as “Ain’t No Fun,” but still an enjoyable record in its own right.

2001 – DJ Pooh’s responsible for this bouncy energetic backdrop that’s sprinkled with a hint of fright. Snoop comes out the gates, guns a blazing with his flow, and though he sounds good, I was a bit disappointed to see he didn’t write his rhymes for this one (the liner notes credit Badd Azz, Kurupt and Threatt). I still love the energy of this record, which makes for a very solid album cut.

Sixx Minutes – Snoop gets off another undirected freestyle, while paying respect to another vintage East Coast hip-hop record (Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew’s “The Show”) during the hook. Arkim & Flair supply the understated funk groove, while Raphael Saadiq puts the funk in the groove with his guitar play, and an uncredited K-Ci (who along with his brother JoJo, must have been honorary members of Death Row by this point) sprinkles his signature raw vocals on a few adlibs. If you can block out Snoop’s lyrical rubbish and just take in the music, you’ll enjoy this one.

(O.J.) Wake Up – After a simple but hi-larious song opening joke from Snoop (I literally lol every time I hear it), our host and L.T. mix a primitive Larry Smith-esque Run DMC drumbeat with nineties G-Funk synth chords, which might sound like a train wreck on paper, but it sounds pretty amazing bangin’ through your headphones or speakers. Snoop (like the drumbeat, pays homage to Run DMC’s record of the same name during the hook) is joined by Tray Dee on the mic, as the duo manage to wrangle the unorthodox beat and rock over it effectively (the instrumental gets even more interesting during Tray’s second verse when luscious strings are brought into the musical equation). This is a fire album cut that makes me want to pop lock every time I hear it.

Snoop’s Upside Ya Head – This was the lead single from Tha Doggfather and one of the few songs I was familiar with going into this post. DJ Pooh builds another instrumental around a low-hanging fruit sample, this time, tapping The Gap Band’s “Oops Up Side Your Head.” But low-hanging fruit or not, the buzzing bass lined funk banger sounds great, and the fact that the voice that powered the O.G. version (Charlie Wilson) sings live on it, only enhances the experience. This track is also one of the few times on Tha Doggfather that Snoop sounds focused and locked in with his rhymes. This joint definitely sounds better than it did twenty-seven years ago.

Blueberry – Sam Sneed hooks up one of his pristine suspenseful synth-heavy blockbusters that Ital Joe, Kurupt, Daz, Bad Azz and Techniec handle well, while Snoop cheers them on from the sideline. This was hard, but I do have one question: Where the hell is Lady of Rage at?

Traffic Jam – Another DJ EZ Dick interlude.

Doggyland – Does your life have more problems than an algebra test? Well, Snoop knows a place where you don’t have to worry about baby mama drama, money, guns, crime, prison, or any other forms of stress; and all you need to get in is your gold card. Welcome to Doggyland! Snoop’s rhymes are kind of corny, but the playful positive energy is welcomed, and DJ Pooh’s quirky backdrop follows suit.

Downtown Assassins – The peaceful fantasy land that Snoop painted during the previous song gets completely erased, as Daz, Snoop and Tray Dee bring things back to the darkside, sharing their sinister drug dealer tales, while a bootleg Tony Montana narrates. Daz cooks up (no pun intended) a cinematic thriller that he jumps on first, followed by another solid performance from Tray Dee (I wasn’t familiar with him before this post, but after two solid cameos on this album, I’d definitely like to hear more from him) and Snoop wraps things up, turning in what’s probably his strongest performance of the evening, as his flow sounds as sharp as the creases in his khakis, but once again, he didn’t write his rhymes for this one (Daz and Tray Dee are the credited writers in the liner notes). Snoop’s puppet antics aside, this was still fire.

Outro – Snoop ends Tha Doggfather with a snippet of he and 2pac performing “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” live as a tribute to his fallen comrade.

After a stressful three years of court hearings and legal issues, then finally being acquitted of murder charges in February of ‘96, I’m sure Snoop felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. But with his legal woes behind him, he now faced a new pressure. How would he follow up his critically acclaimed, commercially successful, classic debut album, without the security blanket and Midas touch of the production juggernaut that was no longer at his disposal in Dr. Dre? Well…

At the beginning of the underwhelming, “Freestyle Conversation,” a random brother suggests that without Dre at the production helm, Snoop’s beats might be subpar (“delicate” is the exact word he uses *still laughing*), to which Snoop replies, “fuck a beat,” because he feels he’s such a dope emcee that a beat doesn’t define him, and he’s right. A beat doesn’t define a great emcee, but the production definitely plays a significant part in defining a great album. DJ Pooh and company manage to provide a handful of solid instrumentals, but every time they hit, they miss as well. And I’m sure since it had been three years since Snoop released an album, he felt obligated to give his fans an abundance of music, but there is absolutely no reason Tha Doggfather should have been twenty-one tracks, as more than half of its filler and half of the filler is empty garbage, serving as evidence that quality is better than quantity. But the biggest problem with Tha Doggfather is the doggfather himself. For most of the album, Snoop sounds unfocused, spewing lazy rhymes and aimless freestyles in the form of half-baked ideas and song concepts; and on the rare occasions he does sound focused and motivated, the rhymes are credited to other writers.

I love the respect and appreciation Snoop shows for east coast hip-hop and its pioneering artists throughout Tha Doggfather, and the fact that he steered clear of the East/West beef, even while being associated with one of the major players in the feud (Death Row Records), is highly commendable. There are a handful of solid records on the album, but let’s be honest. To say that Tha Doggfather is a disappointment would be an understatement, and there is no doubt in my mind, had Snoop still been a patient of the good doctor, this would have been a much healthier album.


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Makaveli – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (November 5, 1996)

In February of 1996, 2Pac made history becoming the first rapper to release a double album in All Eyez On Me. The historic project would go on to reach diamond status and the streets and critics would hail the project one of the greatest hip-hip albums of all time, like they have with every other 2Pac album that is not 2Pacalypse Now. After his well-documented prison stent and Death Row assisted release, All Eyez On Me seemed like it would be the spark to cause a resurgence in Pac’s career. But things would take a tragic turn, when on September 7, 1996, after leaving the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight, he would get shot four times in a drive by shooting and sadly, six days later, on September 13, die from his wounds. But prior to that fateful night, in between shooting movies (Gridlock’d and Gang Related), Pac was recording new music, and some of those songs would become his first posthumously released album under his new alias, Makaveli, titled: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory.

Pac’s new alias (Makaveli) was taken from the name of the16th century Italian philosopher/author/ diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, who was one of the first political writers to separate politics from morality and would coin the saying: “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Killuminati is a combination of kill and illuminati, and I’ll let you make of that what you’d like. The 7 Day Theory references the amount of time it allegedly took to complete the album; three days for Pac to write and record his rhymes and four days to mix it (there is also an easily accessible demo tape referred to as The 3 Day Theory, which only accounts for Pac’s writing and recording time, and it has a slightly different track list than the final project). While the infamous cover artwork for 7 Day Theory (which displays an image of 2Pac being crucified on a cross like Jesus) has become legendary, it’s also worth noting that the original back album cover featured animated artwork poking fun at Biggie, Puffy and Dr. Dre. Suge Knight and Death Row Records decided to remove it after Pac’s death, but like everything else in the world, you can find it on the internet with a quick Google search. 7 Day Theory would become certified platinum just two months after its release, and to date it has sold over four million copies domestically. Most of the critics showered 7 Day Theory with heaps of praise, and like his two previous albums (Me Against The World and All Eyez On Me), many proclaimed it Pac’s best work and one of the greatest albums of all-time.

As an author, Niccolò Machiavelli’s most renowned work was his politically charged book titled, The Prince (which is where the “Better to be feared” quote comes from). It wouldn’t get published until five years after his death. I’ll leave that right here.

Intro – The album opens with a fake music news reporter announcing 2pac’s new alias (Makaveli), the release of 7 Day Theory and a conspiracy theory that a bunch of New York rappers (led by Nas, Mobb Sleep, Notorious P.I.G. and Jay-Z of Hawaiian Sophie fame) are out to assassinate he and Death Row’s character, followed by a passionate statement from our thugged out host.

Bomb First (My Second Reply) – Darryl “Big D” Harper supplies a haunting melody over quiet riot drums and a devious bass line (borrowed from Fred Wesley’s often sampled, “More Peas”) that Pac uses to pledge his allegiance to the West Coast and Death Row and declares war, specifically taking aim at Bad Boy, Jay-Z and Mobb Deep on this one. Pac invites a few of his Outlawz foot soldiers, E.D.I Mean and Young Noble, to bust shots (which includes E.D.I. taking a random shot at Xzibit, referring to him as “that nigga that made “Paparazzi,”” and questions why he’s in the game if it isn’t for the money) and the energy quickly plummets. But Pac, I mean, Makaveli, resurfaces at the end of the song, rescuing the track after his cronies’ pedestrian performance with a classic battle-ready war chant to close things out.

Hail Mary – This was the third and final single released from 7 Day Theory. Hurt-M-Badd sets the tone with a darkly moody backdrop, accented by a cloudy bass line, and Pac starts it off sounding like a Baptist preacher, while his spooky melodic prayer refrain plays underneath his short sermon. Pac gets off two verses full of his signature rhetoric (i.e., hood psalms, enemy paranoia, violence, and just an overall “fuck the world” mentality), which also includes Pac’s classic opening line: “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me, revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin’ pussy.” Once again, our gracious host yields and let’s his Outlawz bredrin (Kastro, Young Noble, and Kadafi) spit a few feeble bars full of run of the mill street shit. This one ends with a spoken word piece from Ital Joe fused into Pac’s hook, making Joe’s poem nearly impossible to understand. Even with its flaws, this record still sounds great. The music and Pac’s classic hook (which might be the catchiest hook in hip-hip history) make for the perfect soundtrack for a seance.

Toss It Up – This was the lead single from 7 Day Theory. It starts out sounding like it’s just going to be a sex song with Pac’s lusty opening verse, followed by a couple of verses, a bridge and a hook of corny lines and cliche-filled crooning from Danny Boy, K-Ci, JoJo and Aaron Hall (with the cheesiest line coming from K-Ci: “Oh, don’t act so shady, baby, your taste is fine as gravy”). Then Pac comes back with a random verse, dissing Dr. Dre for leaving Death Row, and just like that, all the vagina that was previously soaking wet due to the singing from Pac’s legendary R&B guests (and Danny Boy) turns as dry as a desert. The instrumental (which is credited to Demetrius Shipp, who is also the father of Demetrius Shipp Jr., who played Pac in the 2017 biopic, All Eyez On Me (How’s that for a full circle moment?)) is a knock off of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” that uses the classic “Playa, playa, playa, playa” bridge and substitutes the Bill Withers’ moan with an annoying posse said “Ooh!” (The original version of “Toss It Up” was a complete jack of Teddy Riley’s “No Diggity” instrumental (and it didn’t include the Dre dis verse), until TR made a call to then Interscope head, Jimmy Iovine along with a cease-and-desist letter to get it removed from radio rotation, which is why if you listen closely, you can hear Pac dissing Mr. Riley, along with a host of others, during his song closing rant) I didn’t care for this track back in ‘96 and it sounds even worst today.

To Live & Die In L.A. – This was the second single released from 7 Day Theory. It opens with a short radio snippet that implies their discussing Pac’s Biggie diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up.” Then QDIII gets his lone production credit of the evening, hooking up a feel-good mid-tempo summertime appropriate bop. But don’t let the sunshine endorsing music confuse you, as Pac’s ode to Los Angeles is full of cold and callous content: “Everybody got their own thing, currency chasin’, worldwide through the hard times, worrying faces, shed tears as we bury niggas close to heart, was a friend, now a ghost in the dark, cold part about it, nigga got smoked by a fiend, tryna floss on him, blind to a broken man’s dream.” Val Young (who Pac refers to as his angel) lends her gritty soulful vocals to the beautiful instrumental, bringing some contrasting light to Pac’s dark decorum. And of course, Dre had to catch a stray at the end of the record.

Blasphemy – This one starts with a skit of a preacher preaching a sermon in a distorted voice, as horror movie like notes play behind him. Then Hurt-M-Badd’s spooky and pensive backdrop comes in and Pac kicks it off discussing his family tree (which according to him, “Consists of drug dealers, thugs and killas”) and shares some of the game his Pops gave him as young whippersnapper (but just the first two rules of the game; I’m dying to know what his dad’s other eight hood commandments are). The rest of the song finds Pac contemplating life, death, religion and the afterlife. Ital Joe returns, and this time he provides a meaningful chant for the hook. I completely forgot about this record, and ironically, it’s one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Life Of An Outlaw – Pac and the Outlawz (this time it’s Young Noble, E.D.I. Mean, Kastro and Napoleon) celebrate thug life on this one. The sultry instrumental (which Pac receives a production credit for, along with Big D) was dope, but the true star on this record are the uncredited human fingers that played the ridiculously funky bass guitar licks all over the track.

Just Like Daddy – Pac and his goons (E.D.I. Mean, Yaki Kadafi and Young Noble) sound a little creepy on this one. What’s supposed to be a thug love song sounds more like the fellas are preying on young women with daddy issues, using the ladies’ insecurities and desire for a strong male figure in their lives as a way to get the draws. The content is cringe worthy, the hook is lazy and redundant, and the instrumental feels aimless.

Krazy – This one finds our host in a deep “woe is me” funk, and since misery loves company, Bad Azz joins his friend, adding to the gloomy mood. The bluesy music sounds appropriate backing Pac and his guest’s melancholy content, but it’s boring as hell, and Bad Azz’ whispering monotone voice almost put me to sleep.

White Man’z World – The track opens with a distorted clip from the Spike Lee Joint, Malcom X (the scene where crooked-ass Baines is trying to get Malcom to convert to the Nation of Islam while they’re both in prison), setting the premise for the song that Pac uses to address the struggle of the Black man and woman in America. I appreciate Pac’s intent, but the rhymes feel rushed, the instrumental’s uninteresting, and Danny Boy’s overly wordy hook sounds strained and quickly begins to grate on the ears.

Me And My Girlfriend – Pac steps out of his comfort zone and gets into his metaphor bag, painting his gun as his ride or die chick. The song idea was obviously influenced by Pac’s alleged conspirator’s record (Nas’ “I Gave You Power”), but while Nas painted the gun’s perspective, Pac comes from the point of view of the manic gun owner: “My girlfriend, darker than the darkest night, when niggas act bitch made she got the heart to fight, Nigga, my girlfriend, though we separated at times, I knew deep inside baby girl would always be mine, picked you up when you was nine, started out my life a crime with you, bought you some shells when you turned twenty-two.” The seductive Latin strings in the instrumental (that Pac receives a credit for, along with Big D Harper and Hurt-M-Badd) and the chilling hook and refrain are the perfect accomplices for Pac’s well-executed concept. This is easily the strongest record on 7 Day Theory, and it holds a place on my imaginary top ten Pac song list.

Hold Ya Head – Over Hurt-M-Badd’s somberly emotional instrumental, Pac gets into more of his morbid death talk and depressing hood politics, all in an unorthodox effort to encourage the listener to stay strong. This is a decent record, but it definitely should have been sequenced before the electric “Me And My Girlfriend.”

Against All Odds7 Day Theory ends with a slick instrumental with subdued somber vibes, led by a quiet rumbling bass line, as our host loads the clip one last time to buck shots at some of his adversaries. The first verse takes aim at a few of the usual suspects: Nas, Dr. Dre, Mobb Deep and Puffy. Then seemingly out of nowhere, Pac closes the verse by dissing…De La Soul: “Niggas lookin’ like Larry Holmes (look at De La Soul!), flabby and sick, tryna playa hate on my shit, you eat a fat dick” (Apparently, Pac was upset about their “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)” video that parodied his “I Get Around” video). The second verse it dedicated to Haitian Jack (who Pac believed set him up for the rape conviction he would serve time for), Jimmy Henchmen and Tut (both of whom Pac believed set him up during the 1994 Quad Studios robbery and shooting), and the third verse goes back at Puffy, throws a quick jab at Big Stretch (“And that nigga that was down for me, restin’ dead, switched sides, I guess his new friends wanted him dead”; you may remember Stretch as part of the group and production team, Live Squad, but he also collabed with Pac on a few records, dating back to the 2Pacalypse Now album. Pac felt Stretch was also involved in setting him up during the Quad Studio incident, and coincidently (or on purpose?), Stretch would be murdered in a drive-by shooting on November 30, 1995, exactly a year to the date of the Quad Studios incident), but it’s mainly dedicated to Nas: “Lord, listen to me, God don’t like ugly, it was written, Ayo, Nas, your whole damn style is bitten, you heard my melody (this nigga sound like Rakim!), read about my life in the papers, all my run-ins with authorities, felonious capers.” Pac definitely leaves us with some intriguing content (or as he calls it during the hook, “the truest shit I ever spoke”), which gives me goosebumps when I think about how things went down at the end of his life.

7 Day Theory starts out pretty strong. With the exception of “Toss It Up,” the production on the first six tracks is vibeable, matched by viable output from Pac, who repeatedly saves tracks when his band of Outlawz try their damnedest to sabotage songs every chance they get. But things get dicey around the midway point. “Just Like Daddy,” “Krazy,” and “White Man’z World” might be the trifecta for most boring consecutive songs on a hip-hop album. Sometimes you can listen to an album repeatedly and certain songs you didn’t enjoy the first few times through start to grow on you, but that’s not the case with these three records. They’re just as painful to listen to for the hundredth time as they were the first. Pac closes out 7 Day Theory strong with the album’s crown jewel (“Me And My Girlfriend”), followed by two more solid tracks, wisely leaving his cronies on the bench for the album’s home stretch.

It’s fair to say that Pac was never a top-tier lyricist, but what he lacked in lyricism he more than made up for with captivating cadences, compelling voice inflections, irresistible haunting hooks, and raw emotion; and the combination of these attributes gave him the uncanny ability to tap into the emotions of his listeners. The cadences, inflections and hooks are alive and well throughout 7 Day Theory, but most of Pac’s rhymes, while technically sound, ring hollow and lack that emotional connection that made Pac one of the (if not the most) beloved emcee in the history of hip-hop.

The circumstances, conditions and mystique surrounding 7 Day Theory (mainly it being released just two months after Pac’s death) has made many a fan and critic proclaim the album a classic and Pac’s magnum opus (which is actually Me Against The World, if you ask me). But I ask you, if Ben Simmons were the shooter and Pac survived that fateful night in Vegas, would the album garner the same admiration and praise? Despite an overabundance of underwhelming cameos, the lulling midway point and Pac’s somewhat soulless content, 7 Day Theory is still a decent album. And it proves the theory that you can make a hip-hop masterpiece in just seven days is false.


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YoYo – Total Control (October 29, 1996)

By 1996, YoYo was a seasoned vet in the game, known mainly for her conscious messages, specifically focused on the upliftment of Black women, hence the formation of her Intelligent Black Woman Coalition aka IBWC. Under the tutelage of Ice Cube, the South Central L.A. emcee was able to string together three respectable albums (Make Way For The Motherlode, Black Pearl and You Better Ask Somebody) that would bear fruit to a few mild hit singles (see “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” “Black Pearl,” and “The Bonnie And Clyde Theme”). But in ‘94, Yolanda would raise her profile, after making a cameo appearance on the remix for Brandy’s debut hit single, “I Wanna Be Down,” alongside Queen Latifah and MC Lyte. YoYo has said in interviews that around the same time she was yearning for more creative freedom on her records and wanted to shed her “hardcore” persona and embrace her feminine side (“I wanted to be pretty, I needed make-up and hair, I wanted them to see the woman that I am…know that I don’t have a gat in my purse”), which would be the muse for her fourth release, Total Control.

As the title suggests, YoYo would have more creative control over the album. She’s credited as the album’s sole executive producer, and this would be her first outing that Ice Cube didn’t oversee. The underappreciated, Battlecat is credited with producing five of the album’s ten tracks, with a few other hands handling the rest, and YoYo would invite some special guests to appear on a handful of songs as well. Unfortunately, YoYo wasn’t able to build on her Brandy exposure, as Total Control would be a commercial failure and would be the last album YoYo would release into the world (there was a fifth album recorded, Ebony, which was shelved and would never see the light of day). Nowadays you can catch YoYo taking part in the buffoonery that takes place on the VH1 reality TV series, Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood.

I found YoYo’s first three releases moderately enjoyable, so when I came across a used CD copy of Total Control, I had to cop. Not only to check out the music, but also to complete my YoYo collection. This is my first time listening to Total Control, so let’s see how things went without Cube’s vision or should I say, Cube Vision (*rimshot*).

One For The Cuties – YoYo kicks off Total Control with a MC Lyte duet that finds the two veteran emcees body shaming men, height shaming men, and sexually objectifying them. Lyte sets the tone with her opening line: “I keep ‘em on lock down but I gets around, he can tie me up, I’ll be damned I let him tie me down.” The ladies dedicate the hook to all the attractive big dick brothers with money, leaving all the ugly broke little dick dudes feeling like shit. Battlecat provides a breezy synth backdrop that works nice behind these two beautiful Queens, who sound like their having a ball (no pun intended) doing what male rappers have done to women in song for decades.

YoYo Funk – Battlecat (with a co-credit going to YoYo) interpolates Tom Browne’s “Funkin’ For Jamaica (N.Y.),” turning the classic record into a slower water submerged G-Funk groove that our hostess uses to celebrate her music, but more so, her body. The hook includes a Zapp-esque voice singing and Ruff Dogg (worst alias candidate) borrowing a line from “Bonita Applebum” (the classic Tribe record even gets a sample credit in the liner notes…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). I didn’t like this one my first few listens through, but Battlecat’s beat, and YoYo’s funk are starting to grow on me.

Bonnie And Clyde II – YoYo and Ice Cube return with the sequel to one of YoYo’s biggest singles off the You Better Ask Somebody album. By ‘96, Ice Cube was deep into his movie bag, so it’s only right that he serves up a criminal script for he and his partner in crime that finds the duo involved in a drug heist that results in murder and a shootout with 5-0 (oh, how they have both fallen from consciousness). Battlecat lays warm synthesized notes over the drums from Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce,” and this one ends up being mildly entertaining. Side note: During the break after the second verse, Battlecat slices up a bunch of vocal snippets, which includes an often-used Q-Tip line from “Hot Sex” (“Where Ya At?”). Just wanted to offer up a second option for Tribe Degrees of Separation in case the first one didn’t suffice.

Steady Risin’ – DJ U-Neek builds the instrumental around an interpolation of Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real,” as Yo talks her shit and rides the polished poppy beat, effectively. Shout out to Cheryl Miller and rip to Aretha Franklin, George and Weezy.

Same Ol’ Thang (Everyday) – Yolanda gets off three verses about three different male suitors or boyfriends: Guy one, she meets at a club and all he wants to do is spend money on her, which for some reason is a problem for our hostess. Guy two is a hardworking man who works so hard he doesn’t have the energy to spend quality time with her, or as she hi-lariously puts it: “This Al Bundy ass nigga treatin’ me like Peg, never wanna bring his workin’ ass to bed” (random thought: I never understood why Al treated Peg like that. Her wig was kind of goofy, but she looked alright in them leggings and heels). And guy three is a loser drug dealer who still lives with his mom but for one reason or another, YoYo can’t seem to get enough of him. I’m not sure what the hook (which heavily borrows from Cherrelle’s “Saturday Love” and is sung by a lady, simply credited as Dori) has to do with the verses, and honestly, I’m not sure what the purpose of this song was.

Tre’ Ride – YoYo celebrates the West Coast car culture and dedicates this one to her souped up ‘63 Chevy Impala. The whole notion that YoYo drives around South Central L.A. hittin’ switches and three-wheel motion sounds a bit unbelievable, but the soft slightly seductive tone she uses during this song makes her adventures in dippin’ through the hood sound appealing. Even more appealing is the Moe Dee/Lea Reis concocted smooth funk groove that’s punctuated by seductive guitar licks, courtesy of Ricky Rouse. And shout out to MC Breed (rip) for using his soulful gravelly voice to provide the dope and catchy hook.

Body Work – The listener is immediately greeted by clapping drums, a cheesy Casio keyboard melody, the late Teena Marie singing adlibs, and YoYo shooting down a brother’s attempt to get the draws, before quickly caving in. The rest of the song consist of YoYo flirting with said dude, repeatedly inviting the lucky young man to “Slip it in and press play,” boasts of having a bomb box, only to sound super insecure seconds later when she asks him how good her box was (“Was it better from the back on every track? I won’t be offended if you say the shit is wack”). Teena Marie is a legend and God bless the dead, but she has been known to miss a note or two during her lengthy career. At certain points on this record, some of her adlibs and runs sound horrendous. But in her defense, the hook is so cheesy I don’t even think Whitney Houston (rip) could have made it work. This record is an absolute train wreck.

How Can I Be Down – Rough Dogg returns and joins YoYo on this duet that finds the two exchanging generic clichés and cheesy one-liners (Rough Dogg wins cheesiest line of the song with “You got my meat, harder than concrete”) over a happy synthesized backdrop with an imitation Roger Troutman singing the hook. This is bubble gum rap at its finest.

Thank You, Boo – YoYo plays the role of a woman who’s found out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her and she spends the rest of the song masking her hurt and pain with fake gratitude (by the way, if you claim to have “the best pussy in the world” and your man is treating you like his “number three girl,” your pussy might not be as good as you think it is). Treach peaks in for a quick second and gets off half a bar towards the end of the song (he also receives a writing credit in the liner notes, and the hook reeks of his pen). I’m sure at some point over the past twenty-seven years this song has been a source to help some heartbroken young lady heal, but I’m not her and this one didn’t do much for me.

YoYo’s Night – Our gracious host closes out the album with a remake of Kool & Gang’s hit record, “Ladies Night.” Warren G provides a smooth but slippery G-Funk groove that YoYo uses to proudly boast about her thigh gap and being “thick as tree trunk” (yummy to both of those attributes), but ultimately, she’s looking to let her hair down and have a good time. Similar to “YoYo Funk,” this was a pretty unimaginative record, but I still enjoyed it. And shoutout to the uncredited vocalist who did her thing on the hook.

With YoYo at the creative helm, Total Control definitely has a different sound than her previous three albums. Gone are the Black woman empowerment themes and positive messages. Instead, Yolanda spends the bulk of the album discussing relationships, dick and her vagina (without sounding crass or vulgar), often rolling all three topics into the same conversation. Along with the change in content, the production on Total Control has a polished contemporary R&G-Funk sound that isn’t spectacular or horrible but falls somewhere in between the two extremes.

I think it’s fair to call Total Control YoYo’s sellout album. The heavily R&B seasoned instrumentals and the easily accessible pop remakes paired with her dumbed down content are clear indicators that she was chasing commercial success this go round. And even with crossover aspirations, Total Control isn’t a bad album. It just doesn’t have enough meat or memorable moments, and without a strong single, it’s easily forgettable.


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Ghostface Killah – Ironman (October 29, 1996)

Wu-Tang Clan made quite the first impression with their 1993 multi-platinum selling debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album was not only a commercial success, but a critical darling, and along with Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, it would help give a boost to what was a sluggish representation coming from East Coast Hip-hop, ushering in the next wave of New York emcees (i.e., Biggie, Nas, Mobb Deep and Jay-Z). 36 Chambers would also help launch the solo careers of each of its nine members (before you hit me in the comments, I’m fully aware that Rza aka Prince Raheem and Genius had solo albums before 36 Chambers…I’m only referring to the Wu-Tang era). Method Man would strike first with Tical in November of ‘94, and 1995 would bring solo albums from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and Gza. 1996 would bring just one Wu-Tang solo release at the tail end of the year, which also happens to be the subject of today’s post. Ghostface Killah’s Ironman.

While Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was billed as a Raekwon solo album, it was really a Raekwon/Ghostface Killah collab effort, as Ghost appears on fourteen of the album’s seventeen tracks, including his very own solo joint (the bottom of the album cover even reads: “Guest starring Ghostface Killah aka Tony Starks”). Ironman would build on Cuban Linx collaborative spirit, as Ghost would not only have Raekwon as a guest star, but the unofficial tenth member of Wu-Tang, Cappadonna, would also appear on a handful of the album’s tracks. Rza would produce all but one track on Ironman (with True Master credited for the loosie) and like all the other Wu-Tang solo projects, it would be laced with heaps of cameos from the rest of the Wu-Tang members. Ironman would go on to receive positive reviews and would earn a gold plaque within three months of its release, eventually reaching platinum status.

Finally, an album that I actually bought when it came out back in ‘96. Ironman’s received plenty of play from me over the past twenty-five plus years, so this should be a fun refresher.

Iron Maiden – After a snippet taken from the seventies Blaxploitation flick, The Education of Sonny Carson plays to open up the album (which includes a heated and humorously entertaining exchange), Rza drops an adrenaline pumping cinematic backdrop complete with blaring horns that feels like it was custom made for a high-speed car chase scene in a movie. Raekwon bats first and gets off a verse full of his ill abstract Shaolin slang (“Yo, Gambino niggas, who swipe theirs, deluxe rap cavaliers, midgets who steal beer, give ‘em theirs”), followed by Ghost, who sounds flustered and frantic but still highly entertaining (shoutout to Luke, Laura and General Hospital). Then Cappadonna, who unexpectedly stole the show early the same year on the Wu posse joint from the Don’t Be A Menace Soundtrack, “Winter Warz” (more on that song in a bit), does it again, as he puts together another sharp verse to shut down and close out this song. The Rza brilliantly weaves the three verses together with more Sonny Carson soundbites and soulful filmic breaks. This may be the greatest album opening track in hip-hop history. Yeah, I said it.

Wildflower – This one begins with a snippet from another seventies Blaxploitation flick, J.D.’s Revenge (after Kung-Fu flicks, Rza’s second preferred movie genre is clearly Blaxploitation movies…and shoutout to the underappreciated, Glynn Turman), which sets the tone for the song. Rza slides our host somber Kung-Fu flick chords to angrily spit bars at his cheating woman. The song starts with Jaime Sommers (who plays the cheating girlfriend) spittin’ a few bars, before Ghost abruptly cuts her off by calling her a “bitch” and then admits to fuckin’ her friend, even providing the date the infidelity took place (February 17th, which just happens to be three days after Valentine’s Day). He spends the rest of the verse furiously calling her out her name, reminding her of how he improved her life (by introducing her to Robert De Niro flicks and teaching her to eat healthy) and explaining how bad her infidelity has hurt him (“Gave away my pussy, that shit hurt, it feel like somebody died or shot your Old Earth”). He hi-lariously ends the song by telling her “My dick’s the bomb, baby,” before leaving her on this note: “I’m God Cipher Divine, love my pussy refined, that means clean, a FDS smell with a shine.” Classic shit.

The Faster Blade – Ghost got a solo joint on Cuban Linx (see “Wisdom Body”), so it’s only right that he repays Rae with his very own record on Ironman. Rae uses the sleek mid-tempo instrumental to get off one verse filled with more slick slang that I can’t completely follow, but per usual, he makes the shit sound amazing.

260 – This one begins with another Sonny Carson soundbite, before the darkly soulful instrumental drops (I love the menacing sound of the horns) and Ghost and Rae spin a colorfully detailed story about a drug heist they pulled off in Building 260 2L in a Staten Island Housing Project. Well done, fellas.

Assassination Day – Rza cooks up a slow-rolling grimy backdrop that he, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon and Masta Killa each spit battle bars over, while Ghost runs for a quick potty break. Needless to say, his bredrin hold him down lovely while he relieves himself.

Poisonous Darts – This one starts with a vintage Rza Kung-Fu flick soundbite that his ruggedly sinister backdrop quickly joins to put the battery pack in Ghost. Our host sounds recharged and refreshed after his short break, as he spazzes out on the track with braggadocious bars and funny punchlines.

Winter Warz – As I mentioned earlier, this song was originally released on the Wayans Brothers’ hood parody movie, Don’t Be A Menace (I refuse to type out the full ridiculously long movie title). Rza provides the slick head nodding canvas (courtesy of his console), Rae takes care of hook duties, while U-God, Ghost and Masta Killa play the opening acts for Cappadonna who completely annihilates this beat and everyone that jumped on it with him. If you’ve never heard this song before, go check out Cappa’s colossal closing verse before you continue reading this post. I’ll wait.

Box In Hand – The unsung but legendary Force MD’s start this one by reinterpreting The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye,” then abruptly stop for no foreseen reason, before Rza drops an instrumental that sounds like something left over from the Tical sessions. Speaking of Tical, Meth stops by and joins Ghost and Rae as the three emcees truel it out over the less than spectacular instrumental. If I had to take one song off Ironman, it would definitely be this one.

Fish – This is the only track on Ironman that Rza didn’t produce. True Master gets the credit and serves up a brilliant instrumental that sounds weary, resilient and triumphant, all at the same time. Ghost sets the tone with his opening verse (“We eat fish, toss salads, and make love ballads,” and later he boasts that Primatene Mist is afraid of his lungs) and Rae and Cappa follow suit. This has always been one of my favorite songs on Ironman, mainly due to TM’s marvelous backing music.

Camay – Rae, Cappa and Ghost (in that order) get struck by Cupid’s arrow and it’s got them pouring their hearts out to the objects of their affection without a bunch of cliches or going extra heavy on the cheese (Ghost’s animated verse will make you chuckle or at least smile). If you’ve ever been temporarily mesmerized or infatuated by a woman’s splendor, then you can easily relate to the trio’s rhymes. Rza builds the soothing backdrop around a seductive bass line, a sexy piano loop, and a splash of Teddy Pendergrass’ smooth vocals to bring all the pieces together on this fly love song.

Daytona 500 – Yes, I know Bob James’ “Nautilus” has been the source material for many a hip-hop instrumental. So, Rza might not get originality points for flippin’ it for the backdrop for Ironman’s second single, but it still sounds incredible hearing Rae, Ghost and Cappadonna dismantle the legendary break beat (especially Raekwon; dude takes his faster blade to another speed on this one). Side note: None of the parties involved were in the music video for this song, but fittingly, it only used clips from the old school Japanese cartoon, Speed Racer, which was both original and dope.

Motherless Child – This was originally released on the Sunset Park Soundtrack about six months prior to Ironman’s release. Rza provides ominous bluesy chords, choppy drums and a vocal snippet with Black church shrieks to back Ghost’s congested and confusing street storyline. I was never crazy about this one. Rza’s instrumental is cool, but Raekwon sounds like he was laying down reference vocals and Ghostface sounds awkward and uncomfortable rhyming over the beat.

Black Jesus – Right after Popa Wu (rip) sets this one off with an interesting lesson/lecture, Rza brings in slight drums and what sounds like a loop of some ancient warrior chant. U-God joins Ghost and Rae and gets off another quality verse alongside his comrades. And the church said: amen.

After The Smoke Is Clear – The Delfonics (whose prime years were in the late sixties/early seventies) stop by to add some soulful harmony to Rza’s heavy drums and thunderous bass line, as our host, Rae and Rza get off another round of verbal darts. This definitely sounds like filler, but it’s still decent.

All That I Got Is You – This was the lead single from Ironman. Rza, once again, starts this one off with a Sonny Carson snippet, then sets the somber mood with weeping soulful sonics for our host to get vulnerable, painting a vivid picture of his impoverished childhood: “Fifteen of us in a three bedroom apartment, roaches everywhere, cousins and aunts was there, four in the bed, two at the foot, two at the head, I didn’t like to sleep with Jon-Jon, he peed the bed, seven o’clock, pluckin’ roaches out the cereal box, some shared the same spoon, watchin’ Saturday cartoons, sugar water was are thing, every meal was no frill, in the summer, free lunch held us down like steel.” The Queen of hip-hop soul, Mary J. Blige provides an emotional refrain and a verse from the perspective of Ghost’s mom, which is enough to tug at your heart’s strings and move you to tears. Papa Wu wraps things up with an optimistic bow, reminding Ghost that his rough childhood made him into the man he is today and “If you forget where you come from, you’re never gonna make it to where you’re going.” This is a powerful record, and Rza didn’t even have to add drums to it.

The Soul Controller – After hearing the Force MD’s croon a portion of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Ghost’s opening verse where he talks about escaping the projects and a life of drug dealing, I thought this song was going to be about life, death, purpose and a higher power; and it might be, but Ghost’s last two verses get extremely abstract and spacy, leaving me lost like the SS Minnow he references at the end of his final verse (shoutout to Gilligan’s Island). Ghost’s rhymes may be a bit bewildering, but Rza’s beautiful snake charming music will keep you in a trance. Side note: This track was removed from all Ironman pressing after 2001 due to sample clearance issues. So, if you’re listening to the album on your favorite DSP, it won’t be there. Another reason I like owning physical copies of my music.

Marvel Ironman closes with a Ghost and Rza duet that finds the duo discussing the marvelous virtues of the “power u” from two different perspectives. Ghost spends his verse describing Wildflower, who’s so bad she would make Sunshine from Boomerang blush (according to Ghost, her vagina performs magic, stays soaking’ wet and she has a body so bangin’ it growls…um, where can I meet her?). Rza goes beyond the surface of bangin’ bodies and lust and speaks scientifically about the womb, pregnancy and birth, which is sobering enough to make Wildflower’s box dry up and her prey go limp. The vibrating blunted backdrop is almost hypnotic and the screaming/singing female voice laced throughout was a nice added touch.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was and will always be a classic and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of its era. Rae and Ghostface’s chemistry on the album is undeniable, as the duo would paint Rza’s raw palette of beats with their colorful slang and a vivid stream of consciousness rhyme style, making for a thoroughly entertaining album that is worthy of the praise it garners. But what has troubled me over the years is why its unofficial companion piece, Ironman, doesn’t get the respect that it deserves.

Ironman pretty much picks up where Cuban Linx leaves off with Rae and Ghost taking the listener on another Rza backed musical excursion, but this time around, Cappadonna tags along, playing the welcomed third wheel. The year in between the release of Cuban Linx and Ironman did all parties involved well: Rza’s production sounds more layered with a rich soulful feel, Rae’s Shaolin slang sounds sharper than ever, and the dark horse, Cappadonna, gives an impressive breakout performance, even stealing the show on a few of the album’s tracks. Ghostface graciously shares the stage with several different parties on Ironman, but it doesn’t dim his light. Whether he’s throwing battle charged verbal darts or showing vulnerability while expressing his emotions (see “Wildflower” and “All That I Got Is You”), Ghost’s charisma shines bright as he laces Ironman with his lively language delivered in his slightly animated, always energized flow.

I’ll listen to the argument that Ironman slows down a bit towards the end, but the first three quarters of the album is so impressive, it should be given a pass to come back to earth for a few tracks (and don’t forget, Cuban Linx starts off slow before it finally builds steam). This may be an unpopular opinion, but pound for pound, Ironman is a better album than Cuban Linx and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath and included in the discussion of greatest hip-hop albums from the nineties. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


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Originoo Gunn Clappaz – Da Storm (October 29, 1996)

In October of 1993, Black Moon seemingly came out of nowhere, releasing their debut album, aptly titled, Enta Da Stage. It took some time for the album to build momentum, but soon the combination of Buckshot’s versatile and energetic rhyming style paired with Da Beatminerz soulfully murky boom bap production would begin to resonate with the streets and eventually be hailed an underground classic. Enta Da Stage would not only lay a solid foundation for Black Moon but would also be the cornerstone for their Boot Camp Clik. In 1995, Smif-N-Wessun would release their phenomenal debut album, Dah Shinin’, followed by Heltah Skeltah’s solid debut, Nocturnal in June of ‘96. Next up to bat would be the Originoo Gunn Clappaz aka O.G.C. with their debut album, Da Storm.

Representing Brooklyn like the rest of their crew, O.G.C. was a trio made up of Starang Wondah, Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog. Their introduction to the world would come on Dah Shinin’, appearing on two of the album’s tracks: “Sound Bwoy Bureill” and the BBC posse joint, “Cession At Da Doghillee.” Heltah Skeltah would also give the trio some shine, inviting them to appear on the lead single from Nocturnal, “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka.” Da Beatminerz would handle the majority of the production on Da Storm, which would produce two singles, climb to number 47 on the Billboard Top 200 and receive favorable reviews from the critics.

I didn’t buy Da Storm back in ‘96, but several years ago I found a used CD copy at a record store for three dollars (which is an absolute steal compared to the current price its listed for on eBay and Amazon). It’s been collecting dust since I bought it, but I’m finally ready to dust it off and continue my journey through the BBC catalogue. So, grab your umbrella and take a stroll with me through Da Storm.

Intro – Da Storm begins with this short skit that finds our hosts smokin’ weed and talkin’ trash while playing NBA Jams. Interesting way to prepare for a storm, but whatever.

Calm Before Da Storm – After a brief snippet of an English accented man waxing poetic about storms, all three legs of the Gunn Clappaz get off bars, as they yawn, stretch and warm up their mics for the evening. Speaking of yawning, Shaleek’s backdrop sounds sleepy, almost like he took the song title a bit too serious.

No Fear – This was the lead single from Da Storm and the only song on the album that I was familiar with before this write-up. Mr. Walt hooks up a subdued mid-tempo bop punctuated by a dense bass line that comes with a stench of suspicion. The trio sound much more engaged than they did on the previous track and shine in the mist of impending storm clouds that the infectious instrumental brings.

Boom…Boom…Prick – This short skit features a faux label exec telling a story about a dispute with an artist over a royalty check that ends on some Big Red shit. Shoutout to Robert Townsend.

Gunn Clapp – This instrumental may be the corniest in Mr. Walt’s production catalog and is way too soft to support the O.G.C.’s threats of gun violence. And what was the purpose of all the record label skits in between the verses?

Emergency Broadcast System – The former host of BET’s Rap City, Big Tigger, drops by for this interlude that sets up the next song…

Hurricane Starang – Starang Wondah gets the lone solo joint on Da Storm, and it’s backed by a bleak but effective Mr. Walt backdrop. Starang displays why he’s Gunn Clappa number one, as he gets off competent bars over the course of the song’s three verses. Rock makes a subtle appearance on this one, dropping a few adlibs, but graciously, he doesn’t spit bars and steal the show from his Fab Fav bredrin. I like this record, but it doesn’t hit with anywhere near the magnitude of a hurricane.

Danjer – Other than a few adlibs towards the end of the song, Starang Wondah sits this one out and lets his partners in crime thug it out over a mellow instrumental. The more I listen to the album, the more I become a fan of Louieville Sluggah’s medieval theatrical rhyming pattern. He sounds like a hood Shakespeare. This was a decent way to follow-up “Hurricane Starang.”

Elements Of Da Storm – Drawn out overly dramatic soliloquy to set up the next track…

Da Storm – Based on the ominous music in the previous interlude, I was expecting to get smacked in the head with some dark and hard boom-bap. But instead, DJ Evil Dee drops an instrumental so dry they could have titled the song “Sahara Desert.” And our indigenous firearms applauding hosts following Evil Dee’s lead, spewing verbal eczema.

Wild Cowboys In Bucktown – As soon as I saw the tracklist on the back of the jewel case, I predicted this would be a Sadat X collab record. Sadat continues his extensive cameo streak, as he and his sidekick, Sean Black show up and join forces with O.G.C. for this decent but easily forgettable cipher session.

God Don’t Like Ugly – God don’t like ugly and I don’t like this song. From the Buckshot/Lord Jamar concocted instrumental to the mundane rhymes, this was boring as shit.

X-unknown – Nothing to see here, folks.

Elite Fleet – O.G.C. is joined by the Representativz (who I first heard on Heltah Skeltah’s “The Square (Triple R)” on the Nocturnal album), MS and Bad Vybez (which might be the most pessimistic alias in the history of hip-hop) for this Magnum Force cipher session, which ironically is missing the two foundational pieces of the Force, Ruck and Rock. Starang Wondah easily outshines his crew on this one, and Supreme’s calmingly somber backdrop was cool, but way too peaceful to back a posse cut.

Flappin’ – I’m a huge fan of Madlib’s production work, so it was a pleasant surprise to see his name in the liner notes as a co-producer for this track (with E-Swift getting the other credit). The duo cook up a darkly serene instrumental that matches the feel of the rest of Da Storm’s sound, as O.G.C. rehashes the same topics they’ve already covered in great detail during the rest of the album.

Based on the album title, the album cover artwork and the fact Da Beatminerz were responsible for most of the production, I was expecting Da Storm to be chock-full of bleak hardcore street rhymes backed by dark gutter instrumentals. You know what they say about books and their covers. The same rule applies for albums. On Da Storm, Starang Wondah is the obvious standout on the mic with Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog being his serviceable sidekicks. But when all the other groups in your crew (Buckshot, Smif-N-Wessun, Heltah Skeltah) can do what you do better, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. The bigger issue with Da Storm is the production. The album is burdened by bland and boring beats and O.G.C. aren’t talented enough emcees to overcome the monotony or breathe life into the mediocre music that supports their bars.

Ultimately, O.G.C. fails to bring the storm as advertised in the title and the album gets stuck in the calm. No thunder, lightning, strong winds or torrential downpour. Just grey skies, rain clouds and drizzle. Which makes for great sleeping conditions, not so much for an entertaining hip-hop album.


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