Happy Anniversary Post!

Thirty-two years ago today, Ice-T released his third album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say! Celebrate it by listening to the album and click here to check out my review.

-Deedub

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Doctor Dre & Ed Lover – Back Up Off Me! (November 8, 1994)

I’m sure most of you can remember years ago before reality tv shows took over television, and MTV used to actually play music videos on their channels. They even had a platform specifically dedicated to hip-hop videos, called Yo! MTV Raps. From the late-eighties through the mid-nineties, Yo! MTV Raps played the latest hip-hop music videos, featured interviews with some of your favorite artists, and occasionally, the illustrious Fab Five Freddy would stop in and provide in-depth segments about the culture outside of rap music (i.e., break dancing and graffiti). Through its run, Yo! MTV Raps had a few different hosts, but the two most memorable ones would be the colorful and humorous combo of Ed Lover & Doctor Dre (not to be confused with the good doctor who practices musical medicine on the west coast). The duo (who were so popular at one point they starred in their own New Line Cinema backed flick, Who’s The Man? A movie I still haven’t seen to this day) were notorious for hosting freestyle sessions with their guests on the show and occasionally they would also partake in the ciphers, spittin’ lighthearted nonsensical freestyles. Neither Ed nor Dre sounded amazing when rapping, but no harm done, as it was all in jest. So, a year ago when I bumped into a used copy of an album called Back Up Off Me! by Doctor Dre & Ed Lover, I was perplexed for a few different reasons. One: I had no idea this album existed, and two: Why did it exist in the first place?

Back Up Off Me! was released on Relativity Records in 1994. Most of the album’s production work is credited to Franklyn Grant, but it also features production from a few highly respected hip-hop producers and cameos by some of your favorite emcees (more on that in a bit). Wikipedia claims that Back Up Off Me! went gold, but I couldn’t confirm that on the RIAA’s website, so I’m pretty sure that claim is false, or as the kids say, all cap.

Let’s take Back Up Off Me! for a few spins and see if it’s worth the wax it was pressed on.

Back Up Off Me – The first song of the night finds Ed, Dre and their homie from Yo! MTV Raps, T-Money clownishly paying homage to the old and (then) current schools of hip-hop over a sample of the way too frequently tapped McFadden & Whitehead record, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”. This sounds like one of their Yo!MTV Raps freestyle sessions, and they all sound equally silly.

It’s Goin’ Down – Ed Lover is joined on the mic by Def Squad members, Erick Sermon and Keith Murray, as all three parties spit a verse. Erick sounds solid over his smoothly rugged backdrop, while Keith easily shines the brightest, blessing us with more of his “ole ill shit in a paragraph” (I love his bar: “My style is funky like a six pack of muthafuckas”). If you remove Ed Lover’s malnourished verse and replace it with a Redman sixteen, this quickly turns into a flawless and fire Def Squad record.

Tootin’ On The Hooters – Ed Lover was obviously influenced by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, as he uses this one to rap praises to his favorite female body part, the breast: “Hey-yo, baby got back, yeah, it’s fat and all that, but I’m about to take a different route on this track, cause breast is the best thing, next to the wet thing, and if it is a sex thing, check it how I wreck things”. Franklyn Grant combines a couple of James Brown loops with a sample from The Ohio Players “Funky Worm”, resulting in a decent instrumental, but Ed’s rhymes are cornmeal and the bootleg Aaron Hall singing on the hook sounds atrocious.

East Coast Sound – Marley Marl hooks up a slick backdrop, as Ed is joined by DoItAll and Mr. Funke (from Lords of The Underground) for this East Coast hip-hop appreciation session. Similar to “It’s Goin’ Down”, Ed sounds like an amateur rapping next to his guests (yes, even next to DoItAll). But despite Ed’s lyrical mishaps, this still ends up being a pretty solid joint. Plus, Ed references an A Tribe Called Quest rhyme, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this write-up.

For The Love Of You – Ed dedicates this one to…pretty much everybody: His childhood crew, his fans, everybody who went and watched Who’s The Man?, single mothers, and his daughter. Someone named Jolly Stomper (with a co-credit going to Franklyn Grant) builds the instrumental around “elements” from The Isley Brothers “For The Love Of You” (yet another sample that should be retired and hung in hip-hop’s rafters), while decent background singers (the liner notes credit Debbie McGriff, Diane Cameron and Route 4) sing the hook and adlibs, and Chris “The Sax Man” Charles adds some cool jazz solos. Ed doesn’t sound spectacular, but this song is the best he’s sounded so far tonight.

Who’s The Man – This time around Ed is joined by his Yo! MTV Raps alumni, Todd One, King Just and The Notorious B.I.G., who you could say got his first national attention, thanks to Dre and Ed putting him on the Who’s The Man? Soundtrack back in ’93 (see “Party And Bullshit”). All four parties get a chance to rhyme over 45 King’s hard stripped-down backdrop, and as expected, Biggie makes light work of it with his well-polished flow and delivery, and I was pleasantly surprised by King Just’s impressive verse. I wonder why his rap career never took off; that “Warrior’s Drum” song was dope, and he was backed by Wu-Tang. Things that make you go hmmm.

It’s Like That Y’all – Dre returns from his extended bathroom break, as he joins Ed on the mic for this one; and some guy named Teri Bieker drops in to spit a quick verse in German, which was kind of random, but whatever. F. Grant’s instrumental is decent, but there is no reason you should listen to this song more than once.

Knowledge Me Again – Apparently, the original version of this song was released on Dre’s old group, Original Concept’s debut album Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High. It’s also where Masta Ace would get the bangin’ beat for his classic record, “Born To Roll” from. This is pretty much five plus minutes of our hosts giving shoutouts (which includes a shoutout to ATCQ) in super annoying raspy frog voices and an over abundant usage of “yo, cuz”.

Intimate – Ed puts on his bedroom voice for this one, as he remakes the eighties jam, “Intimate Connection” by the band Kleeer. He and female vocalist, Naima Bowman exchange lustful bars, as she sings her verse and Ed, comically, I mean, romantically raps back to her. This was far from great, but I enjoyed the smooth instrumental groove.

Recognize – The final song of the night finds Ed attempting to defend hip-hop’s honor and pissing on anyone who opposes it, which includes Rev. Calvin Butts, C. Delores Tucker (rip), and Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker and Melba Moore for not letting rappers sample their music. It was a little uncomfortable to listen to Ed verbally disrespect these Nubian Queens (he calls them all types of bitches, which ironically gets censored out, yet they let every other curse word he says fly, freely) and almost laughable to hear him trying to sound hardcore over this horrible beat.

Back Up Off Me! plays like an Ed Lover solo album chocked-full of guest cameo appearances. It’s almost like Dre knew that making this album was a bad idea, so he sat most of it out, leaving Ed to sound like a drunk uncle who got a hold of a microphone during karaoke night. Thankfully, most of the production is solid, so Back Up Off Me! isn’t a complete waste of time.

The liner notes jacket for Back Up Off Me! features a seven-page comic book layout that paints Ed & Dre as hip-hop superheroes, whose mission is to defend hip-hop’s honor and rid the genre of wack emcees. Back Up Off Me! is proof that sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

-Deedub

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Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – Creepin On Ah Come Up (June 21, 1994)

Over the better half of the past decade, “mumble rap” has dominated popular rap music and everyday another mumble rapper seems to pop up, looking to capitalize on the style. Personally, I find most of it to be repetitive uncreative nonsense, but there are a few artists/groups who’ve used the style and made some pretty entertaining music. One group that immediately comes to mind are the Migos, who many have called the fathers of the style. But I could make a strong argument that the Migos and mumble rap wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Originally going by the name of B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e, the five childhood friends out of Cleveland (comprised of Krayzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone, Wish Bone and Flesh-N-Bone) independently released their debut album, Faces Of Death in 1993. Locally, the album made noise for the group, but they were determined to have their unique style heard by the entire globe. They would pack their bags and head west to California in hopes of impressing Eazy-E with their music and getting signed to his label, Ruthless Records. Legend has it that once BONE arrived in Cali, they begin to stalk Eazy, calling him every day, until one day he answered, and they rapped and harmonized over the phone for the Jheri curled mogul. Eazy was blown away by their performance, so he signed them to a deal, changed the group name from Bone Enterpri$e to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (Thank God!), and they would release their Ruthless debut project, Creepin On Ah Come Up in 1994.

Creepin On Ah Come Up would feature production from DJ Yella, Rhythm D and the newly signed Ruthless Records in-house producer, DJ Uneek. The liner notes read that the songs from this EP were “Ganked from tha upcomin album (Thugs N Harmony)”, although that album would never see the light of day (if it even exists) and none of the songs from COACU would be included on their 1995 full-length Ruthless debut, E. 1999 Eternal (and unfortunately their mentor, Eazy-E, would pass away before its release). Flesh-N-Bone must have been locked up or preoccupied with some other shit when they took the album cover picture for the EP, as the other four members stand in unity on the cover, while his solo pic eerily hovers in the upper left-hand corner. Thanks largely to their hit lead single (Thuggish Ruggish Bone), COACU would sell over four million copies and turn the self-proclaimed Cleveland Thugs in to rap superstars.

It’s been years since I last listened to Creepin On Ah Come Up. Let’s see how it’s held up over the past twenty-five plus years.

Intro – Eazy summons his distorted “devil’s son-in-law” voice to introduce his newfound harmonizing thugs to the world and they give us a little taste of their unique flavor. This intro bleeds right into the next song…

Mr. Quija – BTNH provides us with more of their thug harmony on this one. The five-man crew dabble in the dark spiritual world, as they sing to a ouija board, asking it to tell them if “bloody murder” will be their collective fate. This is some dark demented shit that feels a little uncomfortable to listen to but still catchy and entertaining as hell (no pun intended).

Thuggish Ruggish Bone – This was the lead single from the EP that would introduce the world to BTNH. DJ Uneek lays down a funky synthesized instrumental with a deep bass line, as our Cleveland hosts showcase their distinctive combination of thugged-out rapid-fire flow and melody. Bizzy delivers the strongest performance out of the crew, while Shatasha Williams’ catchy hook and adlibs are the cherry on top of this thuggish treat. This one still sounds as hard as it did in ’94.

No Surrender – Bone builds on the previous song with a clean up-tempo DJ Uneek produced backdrop that Bone uses to give us more thuggish ruggish energy. This was fire.

Down Foe My Thang – Rhythm D gets his only production credit of the night and he makes it count, serving up some heat for our harmonizing hosts to rhyme over. Bone gets into some murderous gangsta shit on this one, and they sound solid over Rhythm D’s dope production (that synth-siren at the end of the song is bananas!)

Creepin On Ah Come Up – BTNH slows things all the way down with this one. DJ Uneek concocts a creepy slow-rolling backdrop for Krayzie, Layzie and Bizzy to each spit verses about murder and robbery, punctuated by a catchy thugged-out moody melodic hook (back in the day I thought they were saying “Smokin’ cat food” on the chorus). I can’t condone Bone’s content, but I commend them for making it sound entertaining.

Foe Tha Love Of $ – DJ Yella hooks up a brilliantly creamy and clean groove (the subtle tickling of the well-spaced keys sounds heavenly) for Bone to discuss the lengths they’re willing to go through for the root of all evil. Eazy drops in and gets off a quick verse, and while his rhymes are not amazing, they work and bring a refreshing contrast to what Bone has given us throughout this project. Once again, Bizzy Bone outshines his bredrin on the mic, but shining even brighter is Yella’s stellar instrumental.

Moe Cheese – Bone liked Yella’s instrumental on the previous song so much they decided to bring it back so you could enjoy it uninterrupted (Kudos on the clever song title, gents!). This time around, Yella adds some slick and sick guitar solos, more smooth keys and Jewell (who was playing both sides of the feud between Eazy and Dre, as she appears on “Fuck With Dre Day” and this song) adds a few more adlibs. This instrumental sounded so amazing to Jewell it left her moaning on the verge of an orgasm, which is completely justifiable.

On Creepin On Ah Come Up, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony won’t bar you to death or amaze you with complex rhymes, but what they lack in substance they more than make up for with style. Bone keeps things gangsta, spewing rapid-fire rhymes and thug harmonies filled with violent tales from the hood. But shinning even brighter than Bone is the production, as DJ Uneek, Yella and Rhythm D lace the Cleveland fivesome with a dope batch of west coast-flavored instrumentals that’ll satisfy your ears, no matter where you reside on the map. Overall, Creepin On Ah Come Up is an entertaining listen and an accurate prophesy from Bone.

-Deedub

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Sho – Trouble Man (1993)

Over the years I’ve bought albums for several different reasons. Most of them I purchased because I was a fan of the artist, or not necessarily a fan but I liked one or two of their songs and was curious on what the rest of their music sounded like. Some of my collection are from artist that I’ve heard of but have never listened to their music and something piqued my interest to cop (the reason usually being it was screaming “get me out of this dollar bin, please!”). Then there are a few that I’ve never heard of the artist before, but their affiliation with an artist that I like, drew me in. Like the subject of today’s post: the Houston based rapper Sho and his Trouble Man album.

The album cover for Trouble Man caught my eye when I read the title “Sho Featuring Willie D” and noticed the pic of Willie D (of The Geto Boys) standing next to Sho. I’m a fan of the Geto Boys and I’ve always been entertained by Willie D’s southern twang, random outbursts and colorful lyricism. So even if Sho stinks, Willie D (who is also credited with producing the album along with The 2 Horsemen, whoever they are) will make the purchase worthwhile…right??

This is my first time listening to Trouble Man (well, at least Sho’s version of it…shout out to the late great Marvin Gaye…and T.I.), and I’d be willing to bet you’ve never listened to it before, either. If you have, feel free to hit me in the comments and share your thoughts.

Pray I’ll Be A Failure Trouble Man begins with a soulful backdrop that lands right where somber and optimistic cross paths, and Sho uses it to call out the haters that he claims are praying for his downfall and vows to become successful despite their opposition (How narcissistic must you be to think that someone would take the time out of their day to literally get on their knees and pray to God that you would fail in life?). He also introduces the world to his slow monotone southern drawl. Willie D drops in, adding the final verse and sounds a million times better than his host. Sho and Willie’s message was semi-motivational, but the true star of this one is the soulful southern instrumental.

Fiend In The Family – This one starts with Willie D remixing the Cheers theme song into a drug dealer’s anthem. Then a simple funky guitar chord comes in accompanied by a soft melodic loop, and Sho discusses the hardship of having a dope head as a relative. Sho sounds like he’s about to fall asleep or he just woke up and listening to his slow muddled flow started to make me drowsy. Thankfully, the soothing instrumental makes this worth listening to.

Pookie – This short interlude features a verbal exchange between two crack heads (Cliff and Sonny) trying to cop from a drug dealer, ironically, named Pookie. This was worthy of a partial chuckle, but if you let out a deep belly laugh, you deserve a smack, and your sense of humor should be called in for questioning.

Another Day On The Cut – Willie and the boys chop up the same Leon Haywood loop that Dr. Dre used for “Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang”, but they put a different twist on it, turning it into a dark soulful groove for Sho to share a day in the life of a street hustler (for some reason his line: “Went to my gal’s house, woke her up, I got a meal and the guts” makes me laugh every time I hear it). Sho’s rhymes were mediocre, the hook was ass, but this instrumental is tough.

Trouble Man – Apparently, Sho’s drug dealing gig wasn’t going so well, which would explain why he spends the length of this one complaining, I mean, sharing the struggle for a young black man to make ends meet. Willie D drops in and spits a few bars that come off like he’s trying to gather sympathy from the listener for Sho’s situation. I wasn’t crazy about the rhymes or content on this one, but the soulfully weary instrumental was dope.

Fireweed – As I’ve mentioned several times through the years on this blog, marijuana dedication songs were almost a prerequisite for hip-hop albums in the nineties, and Sho keeps my theory alive with this one. Our host takes a short break to chant praises to Mary Jane (and hi-lariously shouts out some of the celebrities that are/were known for partaking in the herbal medicine) over a synthetic reggae-tinged instrumental that no matter how hard you try to resist, you’ll be vibin’ to the music while rapping along with the catchy chant.

Mississippi – Sho starts this one off by dedicating it to all the hustlers, then he shares a tale about his adventures of “moving three ki’s and a car full of firearms” to Mississippi, and things don’t end well for our host. Sho does a solid job of keeping the storyline interesting, but even more impressive is the brilliant bluesy backdrop. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Miss Thang – This one opens with Sho needing a little encouragement from Willie D to work up the courage to step to a PYT that he wants to stroke, and he gets uncomfortably straightforward in his approach (see the hook: “Miss Thang I ain’t got much to offer you, but I still wanna knock your boots”). Sho’s humble pleas for the skins are backed by a mellow and melodic instrumental built around an interpolation of the same Delegation loop that Three Times Dope used for “Funky Dividends” (come to think of it, Scarface also rapped over the loop on We Can’t Be Stopped’s “Quickie”). The instrumental was cool, but Sho sounds sloppy, bored and corny for most of this one. Although, I did chuckle at his line “I got the three B’s and I don’t regret it: a bucket, a bus card and bad credit”.

Here Today Gone Tomorrow – Over a mellow groove, Sho shares a few stories about how quickly playing in these streets can end up fatal. Hats off to Willie D and ’em, as the musicality in this instrumental is phenomenal.

Legal Murder – Our host gets into his conspiracy theory bag, giving examples of some of the ways murder happens in American and the Government (who is usually the culprit) lets it happen with no penalty. I like Sho’s concept, but he completely apes 2pac’s “Soulja’s Story” format on this one: He mimic’s the deep baritone distorted voice Pac used when rapping from the older brother’s perspective, and the instrumental even sounds undeniably similar to the classic Bill Wither’s loop Pac’s song was built around (By the way, “Soulja’s Story” is a severely underrated conceptual masterpiece, easily one of Pac’s best works). All of Sho’s thievery makes this one a little hard to enjoy, as the biting is as blatant as racism in America. Props to the uncredited male vocalist for the super catchy hook, though.

I’ma Get Mine – Sho uses this boring instrumental to piss on his haters and speak his own success in the rap game into existence (Hey, at least he tried). He invites an uncredited buddy to spit a verse and Willie D adds a super corny hook to complete what is easily the weakest song on Trouble Man.

Stick-N-Move – Sho closes out the album with a layered up-tempo dance groove that he, Willie D and the homies use to chant and sing all types of random shit over. This track would sound great in a workout mix.

On the album’s title track, Sho rhymes “So I’m on to a new thang, rap music, the brand-new dope game.” In a nutshell that line sums up Sho’s approach to Trouble Man. He comes across like an ex-drug dealer trying to find a legitimate hustle, and to him, rap was the obvious choice. But rhyming well takes skill, and having the bravery to slang dope doesn’t necessarily mean you can pen dope rhymes. Throughout most of Trouble Man, Sho sounds like an amatuer on the mic, rarely impressing with his simple rhymes and yawn-inducing monotone voice. The “Featuring Willie D” thing was a great marketing idea, but a bit misleading, as he does spit a couple of verses but most of his help comes in the form of a hook here and an adlib there, so don’t expect a Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx type of contribution from Willie. Speaking of Willie D, he and The 2 Horsemen’s contribution on the production side is worthy of praise, as they craft a cohesive batch of southern-fried soulful goodies to feed your soul while you bop your head and scrunch your face, ultimately making Trouble Man worthy of a listen.

-Deedub

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Eazy-E – It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa (October 19, 1993)

Shortly after the release of N.W.A.’s second full-length album, Niggaz4Life, Dr. Dre started to have the same revelation that his former group member Ice Cube had a few years prior. Dre made it clear that he was unhappy with his contract at Ruthless and fed-up with Eazy-E and Jerry Heller’s shysty ways. He would soon leave the label and start Death Row Records with Suge Knight (another business deal that he would later regret), which they would jump start in 1992 with Dr. Dre’s undisputed classic album, The Chronic. The Chronic would be musically backed by Dre’s pristine production and would introduce the world to the soon to be superstar, Snoop Dogg. The album would also include a few shots aimed at Dre’s former partner in crime, Eazy-E. Eazy didn’t take to kindly to Dre’s shots, so like any real gangsta rapper, he would response by bangin’ on wax, dedicating a whole eight song EP to his nemesis, in the form of It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa, that I’ll only refer to as It’s On from here on out.

On the back of It’s On‘s liner notes insert is a picture of Dr. Dre, pre-N.W.A. days, when he was part of the r&b/electro hip-hop group, World Class Wrekin’ Cru. The picture is framed as Dre’s “Obitchuary”, as Eazy makes a mockery of him for wearing lipstick, eye liner, sequin and etc. before adapting his gangsta persona with N.W.A. Rhythm D and the former DJ for N.W.A., DJ Yella would produce the bulk of the EP with a few others lending helping hands as well. Thanks largely to the lead single (“Real Muthaphuckkin G’s”) and its hysterical video, It’s On would sell over two million copies, becoming Eazy’s third consecutive solo project to sell gold or better. It’s On was a commercial success, but it didn’t receive the same type of critical acclaim.

Limited dosages of Eazy on N.W.A. albums were…easy to digest, but full projects from Mr. Wright have always been hard to swallow. I’ve reviewed Eazy’s 1988 solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It and his 1992 EP, 5150: Home 4 Tha Sick, and both were underwhelming listens, and that’s being generous. During a recent perusing at one of my favorite music stores, I stumbled on a copy of It’s On, and the completionist in me had to buy it…so here we are.

Let’s get into the music and may you continue to rest easy, Eazy.

Exxtra Special Thankz – Eazy starts the EP off with a slow-rolling dark synthy Rhythm D produced instrumental that he uses to let the listener know the year this was recorded, and he takes his first shots of many more to come at Dre and Snoop.

Real Muthaphuckkin G’s – This was the lead single from the EP. Eazy invites his fellow-gangstas, Gangsta Dresta and BG Knock Out to join him as they take turns dissin’ his old friend Dre and his “anorexic” buddy, Snoop Dogg. I forgot how dope Rhythm D’s instrumental was on this one, and kudos to whoever wrote Eazy’s bars, as he lands some pretty hi-larious and solid blows to Dre and Snoop’s egos. If you’re willing to have an honest conversation, lyrically, this is a stronger dis record than “Dre Day”. Yeah, I said it.

Any Last Werdz – Cold 187um from Above The Law gets his only production credit of the night, and he serves up a sexy gangsta groove that finds our host spewing more murderous gangsta shit, while Kokane and Cold 187 lend their voices for the catchy hook. This is probably my favorite song on the EP, thanks mostly to Cold 187’s infectious instrumental.

Still A Nigga – Eazy continues to spit gangsta shit and manages to navigate fairly well threw DJ Yella’s dark and subdued instrumental. He also slips in a few more shots at Dre and Snoop, and things kind of get awkward when he refers to himself as “the devil’s son-in-law” on a few different occasions. But E’s demonic outburst can’t derail the smoothness of Yella’s production work.

Gimmie That Nutt – Eazy’s a gangsta in heat on this one, as he uses Yella’s up-tempo bop to get into some vulgar misogynistic shit. E’s rhymes were forgettable, but once again, Yella comes through with a solid instrumental to back him up.

It’s On – No matter how many times I listen to this one, it will never grow on me.

Boyz N Tha Hood (G-Mix) – Our host revisits his song that was originally released on the N.W.A. and The Posse album (that he also remixed for his solo debut album, Eazy-Duz-It), keeping the same lyrics from the o.g. mix and placing a different instrumental underneath it. I enjoyed Dr. Jam’s funky synth backdrop, and Eazy’s six-year-old rhymes, surprisingly sound fresh over it.

Down 2 Tha Last Roach – Eazy starts this one off with a short Dr. Dre vocal snippet taken from N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” that finds the maestro of the The Chronic denouncing weed (“I don’t smoke weed or cess”), which Eazy uses to paint Mr. Young as a hypocrite, but also to introduce It’s On’s final song: an ode to Mary Jane. Eazy invites Mr. Roach Clip (who I’m pretty sure is Eazy’s high chipmunked-voice alter ego), BG Knocc Out, Ash Trey and Shaki to puff-puff and pass with him and rap praises to marijuana. Eazy and his guests’ rhymes have no nutritional value, but Madness 4 Real’s funky instrumental makes this nearly eight-minute experience worth listening to…at least once.

Since It’s On is an EP, I’ll keep this wrap-up short as well. It’s On is easily (no pun intended) Eazy-E’s best project of the three I’ve reviewed on TimeIsIllmatic so far. While Eazy will never be mistaken for a great rapper with superb lyricism, the quality batch of synth-heavy West Coast instrumentals on this EP helps disguise a lot of his shortcomings on the mic and kept me interested for most of the eight songs. It’s On is far from a classic, but it’s much better than it’s been given credit for through the years.

-Deedub

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Biz Markie – All Samples Cleared! (June 22, 1993)

On July 16, 2021, Marcel Theo Hall, better known to the world as The Diabolical Biz Markie, passed away at the age of 57 due to complications with diabetes, adding to the already lengthy list of rappers we lost in the past few years. A lot of the mainstream media outlets tried to sum Biz’ career up as the “Just A Friend” rapper, which was easily his biggest pop record, but the hip-hop community knew that his catalog and contribution to the culture went much deeper than just that one song. Through the years, Biz blessed hip-hop with several dope records that amused and entertained. I’ve walked through Biz’ first three albums (Goin’ Off, The Biz Never Sleeps and I Need A Haircut) already, so today we’ll discuss his fourth release and his final album on Cold Chillin’ Records, All Samples Cleared!

The album title is a tongue-in-cheek response to the lawsuit that found Biz Markie guilty of copyright infringement for sampling Gilbert O’Sullivan’s record “Alone Again (Naturally)”, without permission for his song with the same title on the I Need A Haircut album. Biz’ thievery, excuse me, unauthorized borrowing, would cost him a hefty penny to the tune of $250,000 (which equates to 25 million pennies), and would force Cold Chillin’ to pull I Need A Haircut off the shelves and stop selling copies of the album with “Alone Again” on it. That case would pretty much change the sampling game as we know it, and Biz would make sure to get clearance on every sample used this time around. All Samples Cleared! wasn’t a commercial success nor did it garner the critical acclaim of his previous releases, and it would be another ten years before Biz would release another album (Weekend Warrior in 2003).

I don’t remember much about the songs on All Samples Cleared!, so this review will be a refreshener for me.

I’m The Biz Markie – Biz kicks off the evening with a mid-tempo bop built around a loop from the Mad Lads version of “Get Out Of My Life Woman” that finds our host showcasing his charismatic personality and comedic rhyme style: “It’s me the Diabolical, Biz Mark symbolical, I get chicks from scripts of hits I made a while ago, now I’m on the run again, startin’ other capers, and people couldn’t catch me even if I was the vapors, I’ll leave you in trauma, with my funky persona, cause I’m jammin’ just like Teddy, but I’m nasty as Madonna”. Biz’ rhymes sound like they were penned by his Juice Crew bredrin, Big Daddy Kane (who was a known ghost writer for Biz), but only the Biz could deliver them in this comical, slightly tongue-tied fashion, making this opening track entertaining as hell.

I’m A Ugly Nigga (So What) – In a foolish Fat Albert-esque voice, Biz starts this one off by paraphrasing a quote from the Harlem Renaissance writer, Dorothy West: “Beauty’s only skin deep, but ugly’s to the bone”. Biz always had a knack for making funny self-deprecating songs, and this is another one: “Junior High to High School they thought I was retarded, just because the way I looked they said I farted, I was very very sad and you wonder why, because my looks and my gear wasn’t ultra-fly…my parents told me beauty’s only skin deep, if that’s true why do girls think that I’m a creep?”. I felt a little guilty laughing at Biz’ childhood torment, but I’m sure it’s what he wanted. The instrumental (which according to the liner notes also includes a sample from Lee Dorsey’s version of “Get Out Of My Life Woman”) felt a little empty, but Biz Markie’s hilarious rhymes and hook kept me amused.

Young Girl Bluez – Salaam Remi gets his first production credit of the evening as he provides a beautifully somber backdrop for Biz to spit a story about meeting a voluptuous young lady that he dates for six months, only later to find out she’s a teenager. It’s not like the girl lied to Biz about her age, but he was so enthralled by her bangin’ body that he failed to ask (even though she drops some clues that should have made him question her age, like when she asks him to “Come and get me from Mickey D’s at 8, that’s where I work after school, pick me up for a date”). Everything comes to a head on the final verse when Biz goes to her birthday party and finds out it’s her sweet sixteen. Even though the content isn’t really a laughing matter, this is classic comedic Biz. By the way, the video for this one is hi-larious.

Family Tree – Biz recycles the first verse from I Need A Haircut‘s “On And On” and puts a different beat behind it. The verse was mildly funny, but there was absolutely no reason to bring it back for a whole new song.

Let Me Turn You On – Biz and Cool V loop up the classic McFadden & Whitehead record “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, as Biz gets his clown on, attempting to arouse the ladies with his out of tune singing. This one is impossible not to like.

The Gator (Dance) – Biz sounds like somebody’s drunk uncle giving shoutouts to his peeps for the first half of this one. He then spends the second half stumbling and mumbling about his newest dance that he calls the gator over Salaam Remi’s flippage of a James Brown loop. The “gator” has nothing on the “Mudd Feet”, and that’s all I’ll say about the matter.

Groovin’ – Biz continues to sip on whatever he had in his cup on the previous track, as he gives more shoutouts and lets his drunken stream of consciousness flow over a cool laidback groove.

I’m Singin’ – Our host returns to the “semi-serious emcee” energy he gave us on the opening track, which immediately made me think that Kane penned his rhymes for this one as well (even though the liner notes only credit Biz as a writer). T-Ray gets the production credit, as he builds the backdrop around a sample of yet another version of “Get Out Of My Life Woman” (the liner notes credit Allen Toussaint’s version, but after listening to all three versions that have been sampled on the album so far, it sounds like this song uses the Lee Dorsey loop credited on “I’m A Ugly Nigga” and “I’m A Ugly Nigga” uses the Allen Toussaint version credited here.; sorry, I’m music nerding-out on y’all), and Biz sings a little Gene Kelly on the hook, adding the clown factor to a pretty solid song.

Hooker Got A Boyfriend – Biz digs back in his comical storyline bag for this one. He and Cool V loop up a few Rufus Thomas samples and create a soulful bop (I love the vocal loop and the blaring horns brought in during the hook) that finds our host trying to hook up with a chick whose boyfriend catches them in the act…twice! Now, if you get into a shootout with a chick’s man at a bar (hearing Biz say he “jetted, off to the trunk for the pump, time to set it” was awkward), why the hell would you go to her house the next day? That’s what Biz decides to do, and he ends up fighting the hooker’s, I mean, the chick’s boyfriend, while butt ass naked, then he gets into an altercation with the chick’s dad. After getting shot at, getting into fisticuffs (according to Biz’ story, his knuckle game is nice), and again threaten with a gun, Biz finally comes to the conclusion that “Ain’t a coochie in the whole world worth all that.” This is vintage Biz Markie.

Bad By Myself – Our host provides more comic relief with this one. This time he kicks three verses about a gold-diggin’ chick trying to juice him for his money. The soulful instrumental was dope, and Biz’ off-key singin’ on the hook was entertaining as well.

Funk Is Back – Biz decides to sample a fourth version of “Get Out Of My Life Woman” (Good Lord!), this time looping up Joe Williams jazzy rendition, which cultivates into a smooth laidback bop (Large Professor gets a credit for programming the drums) that he uses to give us a nice mixture of boasts and bizarre.

ThanksAll Samples Cleared! ends with a sick slow rolling instrumental built around an aggressively nasty bass guitar loop that Biz uses to give shoutouts over. In true Biz Markie form, he abandons the mic while in the middle of a shoutout, leaving Cool V to step in and finish handing out props to all their peoples. And All Samples Cleared! is a wrap.

Biz Markie sticks to the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” on All Samples Cleared!, as he stays with the formula that made him a hip-hop legend: light-hearted lyrical high jinks to provide comic relief over dope soul sample-driven beats to keep your head noddin’. All Samples Cleared! (Aka The Get Out Of My Life Woman Album) is probably not Biz’ best album, but it’s still a solid project that showcases vintage Biz Markie, both as a comedic emcee and a dope producer (the latter a skill set often underappreciated by the common listener).

The artwork on the back cover of All Samples Cleared! has a picture of a blinged-out gold chain with a diamond-incrusted clown dangling from it. Biz knew his placement in hip-hop and will forever be the chief court jester of this great genre. Rest easy, Biz.

-Deedub

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Father – Sex Is Law (June 15, 1993)

By 1993, Father MC already had two albums under his belt (you can read my reviews on both of them by clicking here and here), and pretty much established himself as the lover boy r&b rapper. Even though it felt like he was never completely comfortable playing that role, he stuck with the formula, as it helped him obtain his only gold record to date (“I’ll Do 4 You”) and made him a modestly successful act on Uptown Records, which in the nineties was to r&b music what Motown was in the sixties and seventies. Father MC would return in ’93, dropping the “MC” from his alias (a suggestion I made during my Close To You write-up after seeing the list of writers he had on the album in the liner notes) and releasing his third effort, Sex Is Law.

Father would recruit a host of highly touted producers for Sex Is Law, including Teddy Riley, DJ Clark Kent, Pete Rock and Mark Spark, just to name a few. It would also be his first album to include an “Explicit Lyrics” sticker. Father would not only drop the “MC” from his name, but according to the liner notes, he would also lose the team of writers credited on most of the songs on his previous album. Sex Is Law would produce a few singles that created a little buzz, but the album failed commercially, and that’s probably why it would be his final album on the Uptown imprint.

I’ve never listened to Sex Is Law before this write-up and based on the title I’m expecting more of the same that he gave us on his two previous releases. But I must admit, the producers list has me intrigued.

69 – Father jumps out the blocks in freak mode, as he spends four verses trying to convince the ladies to give him a taste, while they simultaneously, taste him. Teddy Riley builds the mid-tempo backdrop around an infectious Bill Withers’ bass line and a few loops taken from Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”, resulting in a funky groove that’s hard not to vibe to.

R&B Swinger – Now here’s a collab I would have never imagined would happen. Pete Rock loops up En Vogue’s “Hold On” to create a banger for Father, who attempts to, temporarily, shed his “r&b lover boy” persona (even though the song title contradicts that) and gets into some real emcee shit; and while he’ll never be mistaken for Kane or Rakim, he does a decent job with PR’s dope instrumental (I found it hi-larious to hear Father refer to his jimmy as his “love muscle”, a term he uses several times throughout the album). I was hoping to get a CL Smooth cameo verse, since PR produced it and Father shouted him out in the second verse, but no cigar. Regardless, this one still goes hard.

Sex Is Law – For the title track, DJ Clark Kent samples the same Dennis Edwards’ song that Eric B. & Rakim used for their classic record “Paid In Full”, as Father quickly switches gears back to love mode, spitting more lustful bars. Father’s rhymes are fluff, but his flow sounds decent over this irresistible groove (the bass line from “Don’t Look Any Further” may be the greatest bass line in the history of American music), and Horace Brown’s solid vocals on the hook complete this enjoyable rap and r&b fusion.

Once She Gets Pumpin’ – Our host spews more raps aimed at getting the ladies out of their panties, and he becomes the second rapper in the past few posts (see my Hard Or Smooth write-up) to try and convince me that putting honey on a woman’s body is sexy (it still sounds like a hot sticky mess, and I’m stickin’ (no pun intended) to my story). Father’s rhymes were forgettable, but the mellow Teddy Riley and Tyrone Fyffe produced instrumental was decent.

On And On – Our host uses this one to boast and toast, and I’m still trying to figure out what his line: “I’m known for makin’ niggas out of singers” is supposed to mean. Father sounds a bit more calm than usual, but his relaxed tone matches Mark Spark’s melodically subdued and cloudy backdrop, which I found enjoyable.

I Beeped You – I believe this was the lead single from Sex Is Law, and it’s the only song I remember off the album from back in the day. Eddie F builds the instrumental around a super obvious Jackson 5 loop that Father uses to rap about ignoring chicks who blow up his pager (Remember those? Damn does that subject date this song), giving several excuses to why he doesn’t respond. The instrumental is uncreative, Father’s rhymes are cheesy, and the hook gets annoying very quickly.

Ain’t Nuttin’ But A Party – Ski (also known as Ski Beatz) gets his only production credit of the night, as he taps a very familiar source for hip-hop producers: Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love”. Thankfully, Ski’s flippage of the sample is more original than most of his contemporaries. Father reverts back to the mellow style he gave us on “On And On” , which was kind of weird to hear, being he’s attempting to get the listener into party mode (By the way, “Buttnaked” is a horrible name for a crew). Once again, our host’s rhymes don’t leave much of an impression, but I did mildly enjoy Ski’s instrumental.

Now Is The Time – No thanks. Next…

For The Brothers Who Ain’t Here – Father is joined by Little Shawn (that some of you may remember from his minor hit “Hickeys On Your Chest”), as the two dedicate this one to the brothers who are no longer with us. Someone named Boogie borrows a loop from Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” to create a twangy melancholic backdrop to set the mood for the duo’s somber rhymes. This was definitely a much more serious song than we’re accustomed to hearing from Father, but I found it decent.

The Wiggle – Now, I’m pretty sure the wiggle that Father attempts to get the listener to do on this song is not the same dance featured in Fortnite, even though I’m not sure what either version of the dance looks like. Needless to say, Father’s attempt at making a new dance craze didn’t take off, which is a shame, because Clark Kent’s instrumental is fire.

Something From The Radio – Slick Rick’s long time production partner, Vance Wright gets credit for the final song of the evening, as he provides a smooth groove that several radio personalities jump on to show Father and the Sex Is Law album love. Father comes in to shoutout all the HBCU’s for supporting him through the years, before introducing then, Vice President of Promotions at Uptown Records, Jimmy “Love” Jenkins, who shares his vision of a global takeover with this album. Needless to say, the takeover never came to fruition. And that concludes Sex Is Law.

Somehow, some way, Father manages to MacGyver his way through Sex Is Law and creates an overall decent listening experience. I’ve always felt that Father had a solid flow, but his rhymes have always been filled with fluffy romantic cliché and repetitive Prince Charming-esque bars, and while the rhymes still aren’t top-notch on Sex Is Law, it was kind of nice to hear him mix up the content a bit. I was more impressed by his production team, as their quality batch of instrumentals does a solid job of masking and making up for everything Father lacks as an emcee. Sex Is Law doesn’t have a definitive hit record like a “I’ll Do 4 U” or a “Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated”, but pound for pound it’s a stronger album than his two previous releases. Take that for what it’s worth.

-Deedub

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King Tee – Tha Triflin’ Album (January 26, 1993)

I’ve known who King Tee was since the nineties, but over the past few years I’ve been tracking down his catalog and becoming more acquainted with his music, and he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite old-new finds. I first discovered his fourth release, IV Life, and enjoyed it so much I vowed to track down copies of the rest of his albums. About six months ago I found his debut, Act A Fool (you can read my full thoughts on that album right here), which was also a satisfactory listen, and Tha Triflin’ Album, which is the subject of today’s post.

Like the rest of his catalog, King Tee would call on his friend and longtime music collaborator, DJ Pooh to produce the majority of Tha Triflin’ Album, with production contributions from a few other parties, including himself. The album would also feature a host of guest rappers that we’ll discuss a little later in this write-up. Tha Triflin’ Album wasn’t a huge commercial success, as it would peak at 95 on the Billboard Top 200 and 17 on the Billboard US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts, but it would give us another classic car album cover, this time in the form of a beautiful 1961 bubbletop orange Chevy.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you already know how I feel about charts and commercial success, and the only reason I mention them so often in my write-ups is to fill space because I often run out of shit to say during the introductions and stats and accolades are a great default. But here at TimeisIllmatic we know that there are several great albums that never sold millions of copies or received heaps of critical acclaim. Let’s see if we can add Tha Triflin’ Album to that list.

Drunk Tekneek – The album opens with a smooth horn loop and what appears to be, King Tee slurping to finish up the last of his drink through a straw. Then thudding drums come in with a sneaky bass line that King Tee uses to display his drunken technique, excuse me, “tekneek”, and he comes off well in the process. Pooh’s instrumental sounds a little tipsy as well, in the most complimentary way possible. This was a solid light-hearted way to kick off the evening.

I Gotta Call Earl – A short interlude that concludes the previous song.

Got It Bad Y’all – I completely forgot about this one, and thought it was the Alkaholiks’ song. Come to find out it’s the lead single from Tha Triflin’ Album, and the song that would introduce Tha Liks to the world (I think). J-Ro and Tash join King Tee on the mic, as all three emcees get off solid verses, with J-Ro making the biggest impression of the three, in my opinion. I would have loved to hear a full-length album from the Likwit Crew. I’m sure have made for a good time and some dope music.

On Tha Rox – King Tee borrows Spice 1’s idea from “187 Proof” and turns different liquor brands into people. While Spice 1 built his tale around Jack Daniels, King Tee’s storyline revolves around Johnnie Walker, a “big shit talker” who ironically, likes to drink a lot of vodka. Spice 1’s record will always be superior, but I still enjoyed King Tee’s one verse wonder.

Just Flauntin’ – DJ Aladdin and SLJ hook up a simple mellow bop with a hard-edge that our host uses to flex on, and he manages to send a shot at the one hit wonder, Candyman (remember him?): “People keep askin: does King Tee still have his couth, or will he flip and make a song like “Knockin’ Boots?”. This instrumental is tough, and King Tee sounds nice rhyming over it.

At Your Own Risk (Budha Mix) – Apparently, this is the Marley Marl produced remix for the title song from King Tee’s second album that I still have never heard. Marley hooks up a funky up- tempo backdrop (I love the LL vocal snippet brought in during the second hook to cleverly let you know who’s responsible for this remix) that an energetic King Tee uses to talk his shit over. You can quickly tell by King Tee’s voice and delivery that the lyrics were recorded before the rest of Tha Triflin’ Album, but it still works well with the rest of the album.

King Tee’s Beer Stand – I completely missed or forgot that King Tee was a part of the St. Ides commercials ads in the early nineties, which several of your favorite emcee were a part of (including Snoop, 2pac, Biggie and Rakim just to name a few). DJ Pooh taps the same loop that Cypress Hill (who were also a part of the St. Ides campaign) used for “How I Could Just Kill A Man” for the backdrop, as King Tee gets off a verse co-signing for the crooked “I” malt liquor, followed by a verse from Cube who claims that St. Ides has the power to “get your girl in the mood quicker” and “get your jimmy thicker”. Who needs Viagra when you can just drink a six pack of St. Ides to get a stiffy? As if King Tee and Ice “slangin’ bean pies and St. Ides in the same sentence” Cube’s rhyme weren’t corny enough, they bring in an uncredited male group to croon over the hood’s favorite malt liquor as well. Oh boy, this was embarrassing.

We Got Tha Fat Joint – King Tee invites Nefretitti and Mad Kap to join him on this one, as they pass the mic around like a joint and do a whole lot of weed talk in the process. No one spits anything quote worthy (Motif (*yawn*) almost put me to sleep during his verse), but I enjoyed Broadway’s low-key jazzy instrumental.

Where’sa Hoe Sat – Remember the rapping jimmy hats (aka condoms) from the interlude on Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album? King Tee brings them back to spit a quick zany rap on this short interlude.

A Hoe B-4 Tha Homie – This one begins with a short skit that has a dude (sounds like Pooh’s voice) getting clowned by his boys after he tells them he can’t go “scoop up some hoes” with them because he’s engaged and wants to stay faithful to his fiancé. King Tee, Threat and Ice Cube take turns reprimanding and calling out their home boy for putting his lady before the homies. King Tee sound more like a jealous lover than a hurt homie during his verse, but Threat and Cube take things to toxic levels, as Threat lives up to his alias and threatens to beat the shit out of his buddy’s fiancé, while Cube sends his boys to kidnap her (but they hi-lariously come back with the engaged homie instead, since Cube’s instructions were to “kidnap the hoe”). Even though the rhymes are a bit extreme, they’re entertaining, and so is the slow rolling DJ Pooh/Mr. Woody backdrop.

Blow My Sox Off – King Tee dedicates this one to the ladies who give fabulous falacio: “Not lookin for a lover, just a good dick sucker, Jimmy’ll rise when I hear the lips pucker, suckin’ and smackin’, gagin’ and slurpin’, grab you by the head, cause your tongue be workin'”. You might call it misogyny; I call it appreciate for the art of giving head. Either way, it sounds entertaining as hell over the funky King Tee/ Bobcat concocted backdrop.

Where’sa Hoe Sat (Cont.) – The rapping jimmy hats return to get off one last nut, I mean, verse, and reference one of my favorite A Tribe Called Quest song (“Bonita Applebum”) in the process. Tribe Degrees of Separation: check.

Triflin’ Nigga – After a short skit that finds a man (once again played by DJ Pooh) getting carjacked and apparently murdered for not willing to give up his ride, a semi-dark head nod inducing DJ Aladdin & SLJ produced groove comes in that King Tee uses to share the perspective of a young brother caught up in the street life, who’s also wrestling with the idea of leaving the game: “I gotta leave this crazy place, but my feet won’t budge, the niggas always ask am I a crip or a blood, I am what I am, and that all I can stand, I can’t stands no more so I’m a scram, sell me a couple of ki’s and by a crib far away, a place that the map don’t say, cause I’m getting kind of timid, at first I was with it, talk about jack moves, I did it”. This is easily the most grimiest King Tee song I’ve ever heard, but it’s great record and a nice change of pace from our host’s usual juvenile antics.

Black Togetha Again – King Tee grapples with the never-ending issue of police brutality in the black community, taking on a militant stance, as he suggests we match the police’s unwarranted violence with violence. He also uses the second verse to call out the government officials and politicians who help reinforce some of the injustices that the black man is forced to face in North America. King Tee’s melodic and mellow backdrop sounds great, but it does sound a bit too chill behind some of our host’s aggressive content. And this concludes the serious portion of Tha Triflin’ Album.

Bus Dat Ass – Once again, J-Ro and Tash join King Tee for this light-hearted high-energy cipher session. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it makes for decent filler material that probably sounds better at a live show than on wax.

Tha Great – DJ Pooh serves up a super bouncy and drowsy bass line to drive the final song of the evening, while King Tee gets off one last boast and shit talk session, and he sounds smooth and right at home doing it over this slick backdrop.

You will probably never find King Tee on anybody’s top ten list, and none of his albums were commercial successes or deemed classics by the critics, but the West Coast pioneer is a witty emcee who had a knack for making good music and quality albums, and Tha Triflin’ Album is another testament to that. Over the course of sixteen tracks, King Tee takes the listener on a mostly light-hearted, humorous and partial immature ride, sprinkling in a touch of consciousness and gangsta along the way, but always delivering well-calculated bars in his signature voice that falls somewhere in between husky and hoarse. DJ Pooh and company provide a dope batch of instrumentals to complement King Tee’s wit and foolishness, along with well-placed cameos to keep things from getting monotonous. Tha Triflin’ Album may not be a classic, but it’s another entertaining listen from a modest emcee whose catalog is severely underappreciated.

-Deedub

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Wreckx-N-Effect – Hard Or Smooth (November 24, 1992)

After the release of their self-titled debut full length album, Wreckx N Effect went through a lot of changes. Even with the lead single “New Jack Swing”, becoming a number one hit on the Billboard Rap Charts, Motown decided to sever ties with the trio. Then In 1990, tragedy would strike when the group’s deejay, Brandon Mitchell was murdered in an apparent shootout. Mitchell’s death almost caused Aqil and Markell to pack it up and call it quits for WNE, but the duo would press on. In honor of their fallen comrade and childhood friend, they would change the spelling of the group name from “Wrecks-N-Effect” to “Wreckx-N-Effect”, and join Markell’s big brother and the group’s mentor, Teddy Riley, at MCA (where Guy was signed to at the time), where they would release their sophomore effort, Hard Or Smooth.

Even though he received minimal credit on WNE’s debut EP and no credit on their debut album (and I’m positive he played a major part in shaping the sound of both projects), Teddy Riley (who I’ll only refer to as TR from here on) would receive co-production credit for every song on the album, along with Aqil and Markell getting a co-credit for most of the album as well. Hard Or Smooth would go on to become a platinum selling commercial success, thanks largely to the album’s double platinum selling smash hit lead single, “Rump Shaker”, that you can still hear on an old school mix at least ten times a day around the globe.

I remember my brother had a cassette copy of Hard Or Smooth back in the day, but I had no interest in WNE, as I summed them up to soft new jack swing r&b rappers, and at the time I was heavy into hardcore hip-hop. But it seems lately I’ve been stumbling upon all their albums during my crate digging excursions, including Hard Or Smooth. This is my first time listening to the album, so hopefully Aqil and Markell build on the potential they showed on their last outing.

Rump Shaker – WNE starts the night off with fireworks, serving up the biggest hit in their limited catalog. Aqil and Markell each spit a verse encouraging the ladies to shake their sexy asses, and TR even steps from behind the boards to add a verse to the song. The instrumental sounds empty without The Emotions loop that was added to the single/video version of the record, but it is what it is. I never cared much for this song, but I completely understand why they made it their lead single. It reeks of pop crossover vibes, and dammit, it worked.

New Jack Swing II – TR and the fellas revisit the second biggest hit in the WNE catalog, as all three parties rhyme with chips on their shoulders, defending the musical style that TR fathered and attempt to silence the naysayers who said they couldn’t rap. Markell bats first and surprisingly, sounds pretty decent as he stands up for his big bro (“Everybody bumpin’ their gums about the swing, frontin’ on my brother like he didn’t believe a thing”). TR follows up Markell’s verse, and it sounds like he may have sent a shot at A Tribe Called Quest, though I can’t quite make out his bars (legend has it that Wreckx-N-Effect’s crew jumped Q-Tip outside of a night club, leaving his eye pretty badly bruised (which is why he wore that mask in the “Hot Sex” video) over Phife’s line from “Jazz We’ve Got” when he said: “Me sweat another? I do my own thing, strictly hardcore tracks, not a new jack swing”…Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check). Aqil closes things out, rapping with a hunger and aggression that we didn’t get from him on their previous projects, and son’s his partner in rhyme in the process: “There’s two of Wreckx and I’m younger than the other, but dig it, when it comes to the lyrics I’m the big brother, and Mark ain’t scared to come and get me, so if he decides to dis, you let it be, cause ain’t a soul that can get with me”. The backdrop is built around the same Joe Cocker loop that Dr. Dre would later tap for 2pac’s “California Love”, giving this version a much harder sound than part one. The last two minutes of the record morph into something you would hear an HBCU Marching Band play, and it sounds amazing. This shit was pretty impressive.

Wreckx Shop – Our hosts keep things on some real hip-hop shit, as Aqil and Markell continue to try and convince the listener and other emcees to take them seriously. It sounds like Markell takes a subliminal shot at Phife during his first verse, as he ends it with “I act like Jodeci and maybe stay a little while, but my sixteen bars is up and doggy shit is not my style”. “Doggy”, as in: Phife Dog). But Markie’s lyrical blemishes quickly begin to show, and at certain points of this song he sounds like he’s auditioning to be the third member of Kriss Kross. Aqil, on the other hand, continues to sound hungry and motivated, as he gets off a few clever bars on this one as well. The energy level drops a bit compared to the previous song, but I still enjoyed the laidback funk groove and the bass line that reminds me of Ashley Graham: thick and sexy.

Knock-N-Boots – Aqil’s in full-blown horny mode on this one, seeking a sexy young tender that he can leave with her Timberlands tipped over “like an oak tree”, while Markell plays John Stockton on the hook. This is decent filler material, but it’s not a good sign to have to resort to a song this average this early in the track sequencing.

Here We Come – More New Jack Swing filler that left me feeling empty.

Tell Me How You Feel – Aqil taps into his softer side and uses this one to ask his lady to express and communicate her feelings to him. The instrumental sounds like it was inspired by Heavy D’s “Is It Good To You”, which was also produced by TR, and Tammy Lucas (who sung on Hev’s version and made her own version of “Is It Good To You”, which was featured on the Juice Soundtrack) drops in to sing adlibs that sound similar to the riffs she sung on Hev’s joint (Question of the day: Which version of “Is it Good To You” do you prefer: Heavy D’s or Tammy Lucas’? Let me know in the comments). I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s tolerable.

My Cutie – After pretty much sitting out the last three songs, Markell returns with his first solo joint of the evening. Over a smooth mid-tempo groove, extra heavy on the r&b, Markie describes the girl of his lustful dreams over the course of three verses. By the way, am I the only one not turned on by the idea of having sex with a woman dripping in honey? Sounds like one hot sticky mess to me…but I digress. Though his lyrical prowess is nowhere near the level of the DITC emcee, Markell’s vocal tone and delivery kind of remind me of Lord Finesse, and his conversational approach to this track disguises his limited rhyming ability. This makes for a decent record to chill out and sip a little somethin’ with your wife, lady, jump off or escort, on a nice summer day.

Wreckx-N-Effect – TR and ’em concoct a mid-tempo New Jack Jazzy Swing backdrop (I love the zany horn loop on this one) that Aqil, excuse me, A-Plus and Markell tag team the mic over, as they take turns talking their shit and making super awkward references to their genitalia (i.e. “The only thing soft about the Wreckx, is our jimmy’s in the pool and hours after sex” and “Man, get off the dick nigga, and stay off the dick nigga, cause these dicks only get bigger”). Despite all the dick talk, this is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Ez Come Ez Go (What Goes Up Must Come Down) – Over crisp drums and a bouncy bass line, Aqil discusses the highs and lows that come with being an artist in the music industry. This is another decent record that sounds better the more you listen to it.

Hard (Short) – TR and the crew hook up the same piano loop that, in my opinion, will always belong to Marley Marl and his Juice Crew’s classic posse joint “The Symphony”. Aqil spits one very aggressive verse over it, and his bars are decent, but after the damage Kane and G. Rap previously inflicted on it, you have to come harder (no pun intended).

Smooth (Short) – The final song of the night finds Markell going dolo, as he gets off a quick verse over a very lazy and uncreative flip of Barry White’s “Playing A Game, Baby”, which is another sample that should be hung up in hip-hop’s rafters. Markell sounds horrible, repeating words uncontrollably and “miggiddying” the listen to death, as he limps to the finish line. Speaking of death, Markell closes the song by shouting out his deceased homies, whom I’m sure were shaking their heads in the grave after this embarrassingly bad rendition.

Hard Or Smooth will forever be remembered as the “Rump Shaker” album, and after living with the album these past few weeks, that label is justifiable. It’s not to say that Hard Or Smooth is a terrible album, as it actually lives up to the low expectations that I had of it and Wrecks-N-Effect. Aqil’s rhyming skills continue to show improvement (I’d be interested to hear how he sounds over a batch of Premo’s boom-bap, as his beats have a way of bringing the best out of a rapper), and there are about three songs on the album that I really enjoyed, but the bulk of Hard Or Smooth is filled with mediocre rhymes (some of Markell’s are actually horrible) and average New Jack Swing instrumentals, leaving the album as a whole a forgettable middle of the road listen, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

-Deedub

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Schoolly D – How A Black Man Feels (October 15, 1991)

Through the years, when it comes to gangsta rap, hip-hop often pays homage to the Ice-T’s, Ice-Cube’s and N.W.A.’s for pioneering the gangsta sound. Rightfully so, as they all played a major part in helping the sub-genre advance and making it commercially viable, opening the flood gates for a sea of other gangsta rappers and emcees to make their mark and money. But if you ask Ice-T who the o.g. (no pun intended) of the style is, he’ll give you one name: Schoolly D.

Schoolly D was born and raised in the streets of Philly and became a part of the Parkside Killers gang as a shorty. Around the same time, Schoolly started rapping, and in 1985 he recorded his self-titled debut project and released it independently, which at that time was a rarity. After releasing his debut album and its follow-up, Saturday Night! – The Album, on his own label, Schoolly started to make some regional noise, which would lead to him signing a deal with Jive. Jive would eventually re-release his first two projects and Schoolly would also record two new albums for the label (Smoke Some Kill in ’88 and Am I Black Enough For You? in ’89). Neither of the two new albums lived up to the buzz his first two albums created, and he and Jive would soon part ways. Schoolly’s next stop would be Capitol, where he would release his fifth album and the subject of today’s post, How A Black Man Feels.

Like all his prior albums, Schoolly D would hold down the production duties on How A Black Man Feels. The album would render three singles, with none of them making a peep on the charts. How A Black Man Feels received poor reviews and I’d be willing to bet my right arm that it didn’t even go wood.

Though I’m aware of his name, I’m not really familiar with Schoolly D’s music. Come to think of it, the only song I’ve ever heard of his is the biggest hit in his catalog, “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” off his self-titled debut project, which Ice-T has openly credited as the template for his gangsta classic “6 ‘N The Mornin'” (side note: Biggie actually paid homage to “P.S.K. What Does It All Mean?” by remaking it on “B.I.G. Interlude” off the Life After Death album). I’ve had How A Black Man Feels in the tuck for a while, and the time has finally come to dissect it. So, let’s get into it, shall we?

Run – The album starts with a snippet taken from the cult classic movie, The Warriors, then an instrumental built around a guitar riff drops and Schoolly spits two verses. He spends most of the song threatening to shoot a “shoeshine nigga” with his “git-gat”, and ironically (or hypocritically), voices his frustration with brothers choosing the street life over education (“I’m gettin’ tired of every other brother in the ghetto, gotta sell a little yayo, because a brother didn’t have enough knowledge, didn’t know because he didn’t go to college”). Schoolly let’s an uncredited guest jump on the song’s final verse, but he doesn’t add anything memorable of quote worthy to this mediocre opening track.

Your Worst Nightmare – After a short skit that features a dude getting shot and murdered for his 8-Ball jacket (remember those?), Schoolly drops a mid-tempo backdrop that he uses to recall his former days as a young gangbanger (he also manages to sneak in another “shoeshine nigga” and “git-gat” reference, which makes him sound super old and corny). He kind of steers off course during his second verse, bringing up all kinds of randomness, including a slight diss to his fellow Philadelphian, Will Smith’s tv show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Schoolly renders the final verse to another uncredited guest rapper, who uses his opportunity to discourage brothers from taking the gang bangin’ path. I respect his guest’s message, but this shit almost put me to sleep.

King Of New York – Schoolly uses this one to spin a tale from the perspective of a drug dealer looking to become a drug kingpin. He starts this one off with arguably, the most hi-lariousy bad opening bars in the history of hip-hop: “Muthafucka it! I get straight to the point, you don’t dig what I’m saying, then fuck you!” (You have to hear it for yourself to get the full impact of its corniness). Even after the opening bars, Schoolly keeps the chuckles coming, as he refers to his dick as his “wee-wee” and once again makes reference to his “git-gat”. The instrumental wasn’t terrible (towards the end of the song he briefly brings in some of the elements from the “PSK” instrumental), but not strong enough to give this song any replay value, unless you’re looking to get a good laugh from Schoolly’s bars.

Original Gangster – Over a reggae-tinged backdrop, our host adapts a really bad Jamaican accent to spit his verses and declares himself the O.G. of gangsta rap. KRS-One stops by to lend a helping hand with the backdrop (which might explain why the instrumental sounds so similar to “100 Guns” off the Edutainment album) and holds down hook duties. I was hoping for a KRS-One verse, but not all dreams come true. The instrumental was pretty decent, though.

Die Nigga Die – You have to love (or laugh at) some of Schoolly’s simple song titles and hooks. There’s a dope bass guitar break that comes in between verses, but other than that, not much to see here, folks.

Where’d You Get That Funk From – Another question posed in a song title with no question mark to punctuate it…moving on. Schoolly builds the backdrop around the same Parliament loop Ice Cube used for the “Dumb Shit” instrumental off the Death Certificate album, as he and his anonymous guest take a break from all the gang bangin’/drug dealing talk that has flooded the album to this point, to boast, and encourage the listeners to vibe to the funk groove. The unnamed male vocalist provides a catchy hook, and you can’t really go wrong with this Parliament loop.

How A Black Man Feels – The title track finds our host on some black militant shit. Schoolly apes Chuck D’s delivery and is focused on killing the white man for his transgressions against the black man in America over a poor man’s Bomb Squad instrumental. He even includes snippets from a sermon talking about the black scientist, Yakub (who the Nation of Islam believes created the white man that they also believe to be the devil), to help drive his point home. I couldn’t really get into this one.

Just Another Killer – This one begins with a snippet from the 1977 film, Short Eyes (a movie I’ve never seen, but I have listened to the Curtis Mayfield produced and performed soundtrack, and it’s got some fire sauce on it), then Schoolly drops a dim soulful groove, as he reminisces on his days as a Parkside Killer in the mean streets of Philly (I found it hi-larious to hear him respond to being asked his name with” Suck my dick, tell your mother do the same”). The pimpish pace of the instrumental works well with Schoolly’s simple slow rolling flow. This is easily the best song on the album.

Peace To The Nation – I appreciate the message (kind of), but this song is trash…sorry, Sway.

Sometimes It’s Got To Be That Way – Schoolly D’s rhymes are all over the place on the last song of the evening, as he talks about going to make a dope deal and getting robbed, living in the ghetto, smokin’ and drinkin’, and…brothers buying cats? And if our host himself didn’t provide enough randomness, the song ends with another uncredited guest tacking on an additional aimless 8 bars. Schoolly’s chill mid-tempo instrumental was decent, but he and his guest’s rhymes do nothing to make it shine brighter.

The Schoolly D that shows up on How A Black Man Feels sounds nothing like the Schoolly D I remember hearing rap on “PSK”. Yes, I know “PSK” was recorded and released six years prior, and artist are allowed to evolve, but this new overly aggressive Schoolly D, who sounds like he can’t make up his mind on whether he wants to stay in the streets and shoot “shoeshine niggas” with his “git-gat” or be Malcom Farrakhan, has nothing on the old smooth laidback one-track criminal minded version we were first introduced to in ’85. Unfortunately, Schoolly’s flow and delivery didn’t evolve and both sound stuck in 1985, making his repetitive gangsta rhymes hard to digest for the length of an entire album. And if Schoolly’s contradicting mundane content wasn’t enough to sabotage the album, when you combine it with his lackluster production, this project comes crashing down, quickly. And that’s how this black man feels.

-Deedub

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