YAGGFU Front – Action Packed Adventure (January 18, 1994)

What is a Yaggfu Front? Well, it was a short-lived North Carolina based rap trio consisting of D’Ranged & Damaged, Spin 4th and Jingle Bel. “Yaggfu” is actually an acronym for “You are gonna get fucked up” (if you) front. I’m not super familiar with their back story but the trio managed to snag a record deal with Mercury and released their debut album Action Packed Adventure in 1994, which I’m pretty sure would make them the first hip-hop group out of North Carolina to release an album on a major label (feel free to hit me in the comments if I’m incorrect).

With the exception of three tracks, all of the production work on Action Packed Adventure was handled by Yaggfu Front. The album did receive favorable reviews upon its release (including a respectable 3.5 mics from The Source), but didn’t do so well on SoundScan. The poor sells would lead to the trio eventually fading away forever like George Jefferson’s hair-line (RIP Sherman Hemsley).

A few months ago I found a used copy of Action Packed Adventure for a couple of dollars and figured I check it out since I vaguely remember seeing one of their videos on BET’s Rap City (remember that show?) back in the day. This post marks my first time listening to the album, so let’s see if Action Packed Adventure lives up to it’s name.

Fanfare & Previews – Since Action Packed Adventure is supposed to play as a movie, it’s only right that it starts off with some fanfare and previews, right? After a ghetto chick gives instructions to the audience how to conduct themselves during the movie (before anyone gets their panties all in a bunch over the term “ghetto chick”, listen to the song and then you’ll understand what I mean) a preview for a movie, that I don’t know the name of due to poor clarity on Yaggfu Front’s behalf, about a 2 legged police dog (one in the front and one in the back) plays, followed by a song from that fictional movie’s fictional soundtrack by the fictional rap group The Really Hard Muthafuckas. After that bit of comic relief, a slightly somber but very epic instrumental plays, while a distorted voice introduces the members of Yaggfu Front to the listener, or the audience. This reasonably entertaining intro ends with some girls dissin’  Yaggfu’s kicks, setting up the next song…

Where’d You Get Your Bo Bo’s? – For you younger readers (if I actually have any younger readers), “Bo-Bo’s” is a slang term for cheap sneakers (i.e. Kangaroos or any sneakers you can buy at Payless or Wal-Mart). Yaggfu’s rhymes have absolutely nothing to do with the song title and hook, as they pretty use this one to introduce themselves to the world, shoutout their peeps and their home state, North Carolina. The jazzy backdrop is cool, but it would have been nice for the first real song of the evening to have a little more energy.

Trooper 101 – New Vibe Messengers (I’ve never heard of them either) hook up a funk backdrop with jazzy horns sprinkled in for additional flavor. It sounds like something EPMD and A Tribe Called would concoct if they did a production collaboration. Our hosts use it to light-heartily discuss their run ins with the po-po. Not a terrible song, but it also doesn’t have much replay value.

Mr. Hook – On this one the NC trio are apparently captured by pirates (“Mr. Hook” as in Captain Hook) and forced to walk the plank to their deaths. I’m not sure if their story is supposed to be taken at face value or if there is a deeper hidden meaning. I really could care less, but the instrumental for this track is a thing of beauty.

Busted Loop – By this point of Action Packed Adventure it’s very clear that 4th Spin, Damaged and Jingle Bel are not great emcees, but they definitely know how to craft quality instrumentals. The trio hooks up yet another enjoyable jazz flavored backdrop with a dope swing vibe to it.

Fruitless-Moot – Dope drums, bass line and flute loop (courtesy of New Vibe Messengers). Everything else about this song is fruitless and moot.

Black Liquid – Jingle Bel and Spin 4th share a weird tale about a college science course experiment that takes an unusual twist after Spin 4th drinks the black liquid concoction from one of the beakers and (wait for it) it turns him into a lyrical monster. Well, we know this story is fiction. The storyline is very cheesy, but I love Yaggfu’s drowsy jazz instrumental work on this one.

Slappin’ Suckas Silly (LP Remix) – I’ve never heard the original, and after listening to this remix I’m in no rush to hear the original.

Action Packed Adventure – I have no idea what our hosts are rhyming about on this title track, but I’m a sucker for xylophone loops in hip-hop songs.

Left Field – On this one Jingle Bel, Damage and 4th Spin take turns to talk about a time when they were pussies, I mean, scared to step to woman that they were attracted to. I love the organ loop laced throughout this song.

Hold ‘Em Back (What’s The Meaning?) – This song has one of the funkiest bass lines I’ve heard so far for my ’94 posts. And when you combine the bass line with the angelic-like vocal loop and the high energy hook (damn I miss all those super-hyped group chant choruses from the nineties), this song is pretty entertaining.

Uptown Downtown – Yaggfu Front continues to impress with their production. They take a break from the heavy dosage of jazz loops and lay down a funky little diddly to spit their below average rhymes over.

Frontline – On this one the trio talk about how men front about who they are and what they have in order to impress the ladies and get what they want. None of their verses are memorable, but the instrumental, which is built around a wavy Roy Ayers loop, is beautiful and as smooth as a baby’s ass.

Sweet Caroline – Yaggfu Front builds the instrumental around a dope loop from the Gap Band’s rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. And even though Charlie Wilson sings “Caroline” instead of “Carolina”, it still works as a slick shoutout to the trio’s home state. Speaking of shoutouts, that’s exactly what Yaggfu Front uses this instrumental to do. Well done, fellas.

My Dick Is So Large (Bonus Track) – The final song of the evening is hi-larious. Damage, Spin and Jingle are in full clown mode as they take turns boasting about the size of their jimmies. Minnesota (who would go on to produce songs for Grand Puba, Lil’ Kim, Big Pun and Mos Def, just to name a few) gets the production credit and hooks up a decent backdrop for the trio, but this may be the only song on Action Packed Adventure that Yaggfu Front actually sounds more entertaining than the production.

Action Packed Adventure proves Jingle Bel, D’Ranged N Damage and Spin 4th all to be sub-par emcees. None of the three establish their own identity on the mic, as they all rap in the same monotone voice, and more often than not, their vocals are overtaken by their production and get lost in the instrumentals. You won’t get any lyrical mastery from these guys, but if you’re looking for quality nineties production, you’ve come to the right album. From beginning to end the production work on Action Packed Adventure is solid with a large chuck of it being really damn good. There really is no reason why Yaggfu Front should have made a second album, but I’m shocked they didn’t go on to produce for other artists.

-Deedub

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T-Bone – Redeemed Hoodlum (August 1993)


The final backlog post. Look for the start of 1994 in the next few weeks!

I’m sure most of you are not familiar with T-Bone, so allow me to give you a brief background. Born Rene Francisco Sotomayor to a Nicaraguan father and a Salvadoran mother, T-Bone is a Christian rapper born and bred in San Francisco. A few of you may remember him for his scene stealing role as the rapping convict Briggs in the Beyoncé/Cuba Gooding Jr. movie The Fighting Temptations (dude made Lil Zane sound like an amateur…wait, Lil Zane always sounded like an amateur). He is also the only rapper I can currently think of that murdered KRS-One on his own shit. You thank I’m crazy? Check out “The Struggle Continues” from KRS-One’s Spiritual Minded album and tell me different.  After coming to the Lord in his teens, T-Bone signed a deal with the small Christian label, Metro One, where he would release his debut album, Redeemed Hoodlum.

T-Bone would tap the LA Posse (best known for their production work for several of the tracks on LL Cool J’s BAD album) to produce the entirety of Redeemed Hoodlum. Even though at this point, Big Dad, Bobcat and DJ Pooh were no longer part of LA Posse, original member Muffla still remained, and his new partner, Chase (who receives co-production credit on Redeemed Hoodlum) would make up the new LA Posse roster.

My brother-in-law hipped me to this album in the late nineties at a time when I was searching and super hungry for God and truth. I had it on cassette back then, and years later when I ran across a used cd copy for a few bucks, a brother had to make that minimal investment.

Hopefully Redeemed Hoodlum lives up to the nostalgia.

Baseball Intro – Short intro that T-Bone uses to tell the world where he’s from and what his expectations are for this album.

Saved to da bone prelude – I’m not sure why this wasn’t just tacked on to the “Baseball Intro”. But as the title suggest, it’s a quick sampler of a song to come a little later down the sequenced road.

Jabbin the Jaw – The first actual song on Redeemed Hoodlum finds T-Bone displaying his nimble tongue, as he takes shots at Muslims’ theology, slays a few demons, does a little witnessing and gets goofy with the wordplay. The LA Posse lays down a solid instrumental for our host to do his thing on, and I love the understated horn loop brought in during the hook.

Redeemed Hoodlum – T-Bone gives his testimony as he talks about his youth, coming up in the hood amongst gangbangin’, selling drugs and *clutching my pearls* spewing secular raps (I’m very curious to hear what T-Bone’s rhymes sounded like pre-Jesus), until he met Jesus Christ on his Damascus Road. On the song’s final verse our host hits one of my pet peeves when he claims “I’m never stuck up, I’m always humble.” I absolutely hate when people say how humble they are, since the act itself is very prideful. LA Posse puts some stank on the mid-tempo funk instrumental, giving some validation To Bone’s hardcore edginess.

Rugged Rhyme Sayer – Muffla and crew slides Bone some old soulful loveliness for this one. T-Bone uses the melodic backdrop to spew randomness over the course of three verses, but keeps it Jesus. I did find his lines about Catholic School and Virgin Mary pretty interesting. T-Bone sounds solid on this one (minus the hook where he sounds like a poor man’s B-Real), but the instrumental is the true star.

Commin of da Judgment – T-Bone takes us to church on this one. Literally. Bone invites The (or as the liner notes state “Da”) First Missionary Baptist Church’s choir to sing the hook, and the instrumental includes a live organ that make you feel like you’re sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. Our host basically preaches a sermon over it, as he casually refers to Jesus as “JC” (a term that my dad, who happens to be deeply involved in church, views as a form of disrespect). The spirit even falls on T-Bone during his first verse as he goes into tongues (if you’re not familiar with the whole “speaking in tongues” thing, turn in your bibles to Acts 19:6) mid verse, and amazingly, it fits perfectly into his rhymes (look at God!). This is not my favorite song on Redeemed Hoodlum, but it’s decent.

Lyrical Assassin – This is the first real mishap of the evening. T-Bone goes on a demon killing spree and completely rips B-Real’s nasally delivery and flow, and even steals some of his rhymes. To make matters worse, Muffla and ’em even hook up a track that’s sounds like a generic replica of the “How I Could Just Kill A Man” instrumental. This was bad.

Saved to the Bone – The “Saved to the bone prelude” gave a glimpse into the dopeness of the song’s instrumental; but just a glimpse. I’ve heard this Eddie Harris “Turbulence” loop used before (see Heavy D’s “A Buncha Niggas”), but the way the LA Posse flips it is absolutely bananas! T-Bone matches the track’s energy every step up of the way and at certain points raps circles around it. This is easily the best song on Redeemed Hoodlum.

Da Protecta, Da Fixa – LA Posse hooks up a nasty boom-bap production, complete with Premo-esque scratches on the hook, as T-Bone (who proclaims himself as the “Christian John Wayne” on the song’s second verse) gets loose and takes on emcees and demons. I don’t remember this song being on Redeemed Hoodlum, but it was a pleasant surprise.

Virginia Watson Interview – Plays exactly as it reads.

Divided We Fall – T-Bone calls for his Latino gangbanging brethren to come together in peace and unity. Our host sounds confident and comfortable over the dope mid-tempo backdrop. This was solid.

Barrio Blues – “Barrio” is Spanish for “neighborhood.”  Based on Bone’s content, I believe he saying he’s got the “hood blues.” This wasn’t a great song, but it makes for decent filler material.

Gloria Estefan Interlude – This was super corny and very useless.

Predicador de la Calle – Translates to “Street Preacher”. T-Bone spits the entire song in Spanish, so I’m not sure what he’s saying, but his flow and the instrumental are on point.

Hoodlums PrayerRedeemed Hoodlum ends with a very drab instrumental and T-Bone rapping in a cadence and flow reminiscent of 1984. I don’t care if this was supposed to be a prayer, this was terrible.

You may not agree with T-Bone’s theology or content (I’ll even admit that the whole “buckin’ demons down” is kind of cheesy), but after listening to Redeemed Hoodlum there’s no denying that the dude can spit. And when you combine T-Bone’s skill and charisma with the quality production that LA Posse laced Redeemed Hoodlum with, you got a winner. And the church said…amen.

Deedub

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Digital Underground – The Body-Hat Syndrome (October 5, 1993)

We last heard from the Oakland based collective, Digital Underground, in 1991 with their homage to P-funk album, Sons of The P. They would return at the tail end of 1993 with their fourth project, third full-length album, and their final release on Tommy Boy, The Body-Hat Syndrome.

As usual, D-Flo (which is the collective of Shock-G, Gary Katz and DJ JZ ) would handle all of the production work on The Body-Hat Syndrome. Along with the usual suspects of Shock-G, Humpty, Money B and Schmoovy-Schmoov on the mic, newcomers Clee and Saafir (who I will always associate as Harold from the classic hood movie Menace II Society, but is often revered for being a sharp lyricists and known for his classic battle with the Hieroglyphic crew back in the nineties) appear on several of the album’s songs, and O.G. member of DU, 2pac stops by to make a couple of appearances as well.

The Body-Hat Syndrome did receive favorable reviews upon its release, but the album’s sells weren’t as favorable. It would be the first project in DU’s catalog that did not earn at least a gold plaque (which is 500,000 copies sold for those not familiar with record business jargon).

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea The Body-Hat Syndrome even existed, until I stumbled across a copy while diggin’ through the used cd bins at one of my favorite spots. I’m still scratching my head on how I missed this album from a time when Digital Underground was truly poppin’, still on Tommy Boy (so there had to be promotional money behind it) and released at a time where I kept up with everything hip-hop related.

The man who knows something, knows that he knows nothing at all.

The Return of The Crazy One – DU kicks off The Body-Hat Syndrome with a funky beat and the crew’s’ resident clown (also Shock-G’s alter-ego) Humpty-Hump clowning all over the track. Hump doesn’t say anything mind-blowing on this one, but his nonsensical rhymes will keep you entertained.

Doo Woo You – Saafir makes his rap recording debut on this one, as he and Shock-G take turns calling out all of their closed-minded haters, though the hook could lead one to believe this is a love song. D-Flo’s instrumental sounds like a drowsy stripped-down-filtered version of the backdrop for 2pac’s “I Get Around” (which D-Flo also produced), and that’s not a bad thing. At seven and a half minutes, the song may run a bit too long, but I still dug it.

Holly Wanstaho – Saafir teams up with Shock-G again, and this time their shittin’ on a girl named Holly and her hoeing hobby. Shock and Saafir fail to impress on the mic, and the instrumental sounds like a bunch of noise.

Bran Nu Swetta – DU keeps things light, as Shock, Money B and Saafir each spit a verse about their experiences with women whose interest in them was so intense it bordered on stalking. I’ve never really listened to a lot of Saafir’s lyrics before today, but I’ve heard many call him a master wordsmith. I have to admit I’m not that impressed with what I’ve heard from him on The Body-Hat Syndrome, up to this point. Money B actually delivers the strongest verse on the song, in my opinion. The instrumental is barely decent, and there is really no reason to listen to this song more than once.

The Humpty Dance Awards – This is the first of three bonus tracks only included on the CD format of The Body-Hat Syndrome. Fresh off of his new-found success in Hollywood, 2pac reunites with his Digital brethren, as he and Humpty host the first ever Humpty Dance Awards. You ask, “what are the Humpty Dance Awards”? It’s a faux award given to artist that Digital Underground feels borrowed elements from their hit record “The Humpty Dance”. The CD insert even includes an elaborate ballot with different categories (i.e. “Best Use By Group Or Duo”, “Best R&B Usage”, “Hidden Use Award”, “Boldest Jack-Move”, etc.). Pac and Hump play a quick clip off all the songs up for the award, and I must admit, I never new how many different songs borrowed the drums from “The Humpty Dance”. It appears to all be done in jest with no hard feelings from DU, considering the long drawn out thesis in the album insert about all musical ideas being free and that no one can own a beat, melody or musical phrase. This was cute.

Body-Hats (Part One) – I guess this is the working title track, which DU breaks down into three parts. For Part One, D-Flo hooks up a decent up-tempo backdrop that Shock-G, Hump, Money B and Saafir use to, abstractly, discuss all the threats (both physical and mental) the “body-hat” can protect you from. Or, as Shock says at the song’s close: “Barring abstinence, the Body-Hat is the best known protection against FADES” (which he explained on “Doo Woo You” is an acronym for Falsely Acquired Diluted Education Syndrome”). The song is decent enough, I guess.

Dope-A-Delic (Do-U-B-Leeve-In-D-Flo?) – This is the second of three bonus songs only included on the CD format of The Body-Hat Syndrome. Clee and Humpty, tag-team the mic as they fire shots at all the “bland” emcees and “weak rookie rappers”. The duo actually sounds okay, but the instrumental lacks energy.

Intermission – Quick mash-up of short clips taken from the DU catalog.

Wussup Wit The Luv – It’s rare for Digital Underground to get serious on a record. Matter of fact, up to this point in their career the only other serious record I can recall them being a part of was “All In The Same Gang” as part of the West Coast Rap All-Stars (remember that one?). On this song Shock-G, Money B, Clee and 2pac get very serious as they address the many evils that exist in this world and call for more love amongst humanity. Shock-G does provide one unintentional moment of comic relief when he sings “One brother speaks in African”, which is hi-larious to me, considering African is a person’s descent not a language. But I digress. I like the song’s sentiment and I “luv” the laid back piano chords and melancholy vibe of the production.

digital Lover –  Not sure why DU decided to spell “digital” in the song title with a lowercase “d”. Typo or intentional? I guess it’s one of those mysteries the world will never know. Or someone could just ask Shock-G. When I first saw the song title, I thought “digital” was going to be a double entendre for the first word in the group’s name and as in fingers…catch my drift. The album insert (no pun intended) has an illustration of what appears to be a female robot bent over with an arrow labeled “enter here” pointed between her legs and the title “digital lover (NO CONDOMS NECESSARY)” above the drawing. So, maybe I was wrong on both ends. But who cares? The song is trash.

Carry The Way (Along Time) – DU blows their own horns on this one, as they pay homage to their contribution to hip-hop. Shock-G, Clee, Saafir and Money B all take turns patting themselves on the back. No one’s lyrics are memorable and the instrumental is so drowsy and terrible I don’t even think the god Rakim could have sparked my interest rapping over it.

Body-Hats (Part Two) – DU picks up right where they left off with Part One, bringing back the same instrumental, as the same parties from the first go round discuss the same damn thing.

Circus Entrance – Short skit that sets up the next song…

Jerkit Circus – Money B, Humpty and Shock-G annoyingly scream their way through most of this ode to masturbation. And if our hosts weren’t annoying enough, the garbage D-Flo instrumental only makes things worse. Geez…I’ve never heard anyone make jackin’ off sound so miserable.

Circus Exit (The After Nut) – An unnecessary interlude to wrap up the disaster that was “Jerkit Circus”.

Shake & Bake – More juvenile sex rhymes from Humpty over a mediocre funk track.

Body Hats (Part Three) – Same thing as Part One and Two, but only Shock and Humpty show up for this one.

Do You Like It Dirty? – For this one Shock-G and Humpty take turns on the mic, and I believe on the same chick. Years before “eating someone’s groceries” became a “thing” in hip-hop, Shock and Hump give intimate details on a freak that likes to do more than just toss their salads. Their rhymes are mildly entertaining, but the instrumental is super trash.

Bran Nu Sweat This Beat – DU brings back the instrumental from “Bran Nu Swetta” for this quick thirty-second interlude.

Wheee! – The final song on The Body-Hat Syndrome (at least on the CD format…this is the third of the three bonus songs only included on the CD) finds Shock-G (well, it starts off as Shock-G, but by the middle of both his verses he transforms into Humpty without notice), Money B, Clee and Schmoovy-Schmoov living their best lives just having good old fashion care-free fun. The heavy drums and the melodic piano chords help create the perfect atmosphere for their playful-unformatted-nonsensical rhymes. This is probably my favorite song on The Body-Hat Syndrome. Great way to end the album.

The Body-Hat Syndrome is definitely not Digital Underground’s best body (no pun intended) of work. At twenty tracks (at least the CD format), its way too long, and with most of the songs being sub par (both lyrically and production wise) with juvenile content, it makes an already lengthy project even more testing on the attention span. There are a handful of dope songs sprinkled in to the pot, but not enough to say The Body-Hat Syndrome is a good project. This definitely would have worked better as an EP.

-Deedub

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Mellow Man Ace – The Brother With Two Tongues (June 2, 1992)

Part two of my Mellow Man Ace posts. Enjoy.

What’s It Take To Pull A Hottie (Like You)? – Mellow Man Ace kicks off The Brother With Two Tongues with a heavily r&b flavored track, and sounds thirsty as a man with an empty canteen walking through the Atacama Desert, as he tries to put together the perfect formula to get an extremely hot female to go out with him. Bronek Wroblewski (which may be the illest name in the history of the world) gets credit for the bootleg New Jack Swingish instrumental. The song is pretty cheesy, but I can’t stop singing the catchy hook.

Brother With Two Tongues – Julio G (not to be confused with Mellow Man Ace’s other production partner, Tony G) steers things back to more of a hip-hop feel for the title track. Mellow Man Ace uses the decent instrumental to spit more of the Spanglish rhyme styling that he created. I’m not crazy about this song, but it wasn’t terrible.

Linda – Julio G borrows from the often used Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” for the instrumental. Ace uses it to sing praises to the woman who has him open for the moment, Linda. Every time I hear Ace say “Linda” (with his accent its pronounced “Leenda”), I immediately thank about that viral YouTube video from a few years ago of the little boy telling his mom “Leenda, you’re not listening”. Oh yeah, back to the song. It sucked.

Babalu Bad Boy – DJ Muggs gets his only production credit on The Brother With Two Tongues on this one. He builds his instrumental around a loop from Herbie Hancock’s “Fat Mama” (that you’ve heard before: see 2pac’s “If My Homies Call” and Chi-Ali’s “Step Up”) and turns it into an enjoyable backdrop, while our host speaks about his humble beginnings and boasts about his Cuban coolness. This was solid.

Gettin’ Funky In The Joint – Ace never finds his footing on Julio G’s horrible instrumental. Wait. Did Ace just say “I come off like niggas”? What does that even mean?

Hypest From Cypress – Cipher time! Ace invites Krazy D, Tomahawk Funk from Funkdoobiest (credit as “Chief T” in the liner notes) and his big bro, Sen Dog (from Cypress Hill) to join him on this one, as they rep for their hood. On paper, it doesn’t sound like an impressive combination: Mellow Man Ace, a relative unknown (in Krazy D) and two sidekicks in their respective bands. But don’t sleep. Everyone puts in work on this one (even though Sen Dog regurgitates most of his verse from “Shoot ‘Em Up”), with the exception of Ace, who sounds way to laxed compared to his focused and hungry compadres. Julio G lays down a raw and funky backdrop that satisfies the rumblings in the bellies of Ace’s guests. This song should have wrapped after Ace’s verse. Instead, Ace and his crew go old school, rhyming over a simple clap, but none of them come close to recapturing the magic they had on Julio G’s instrumental.

Funky Muneca – By this point it’s clear that Mellow Man Ace enjoys combining Spanish words with English words for his song titles. In this case, he combines “Funky” with “Muneca”, which is a term of endearment for a woman you’re fond of (it translates to “doll” or “dollish”). Yeah, I think the song title is pretty corny too, but the song is even worst. The instrumental is the audio equivalent of faucet water (without a filter) and Ace’s rhymes are arguably cornier than the hook and the song title combined.

Boulevard Nights – The Baker Boyz and Julio G collab to create the dark backdrop,  underlined by a mischievous rumbling bass line. MMA uses it to discuss what goes down at night on the streets of L.A., which pretty much doesn’t go beyond partying, chasing girls, flossing and more partying. In his final verse, Ace says: “So many hotties in the house if you were sick you’d wanna rape ’em, but keep it cool homeboy and um, video tape ’em”. This line sounds a little creepy (especially the part about rape), and if The Brother With Two Tongues was released in 2018, I’m sure Capitol would have been forced to pull it off the album. All in all, this was a decent listen.

Me La Pelas – “Me La Pelas” is Spanish for “suck my dick”. Ace starts the song off by saying this is part two of “Mas Pingon” (which is Spanish for “Go Fuck Yourself”) from Escape From Havana. Our host spits most of the song in Spanish with a muffled effect on his mic that makes it sound like he recorded this in his basement on a karaoke machine. Speaking of basements, Julio G’s instrumental has a dusty quality to it, and it’s actually pretty decent. But if I had to pick between this and “Mas Pingon”, I’m rollin’ with the latter. What? You don’t agree? Me la pelas!!!

Ricky Ricardo of Rap – The song sounds just as corny as the title reads.

Welcome To My Groove –  Tony G gets his only production credit of the evening, and it happens to be a house beat that MMA uses to drop pick up lines over. Ace sounds corny, the female vocalist (credit as “Jeaneete” in the liner notes) on the hook sounds godawful, but I kind of enjoyed Tony G’s instrumental, even though I feel like I shouldn’t.

Mellow Says Hello – MMA gives his shoutouts over a Julio G produced instrumental that recycles the same Lowell Fulson “Tramp” loop that Muggs used for “How I Could Just Kill A Man”. Since Muggs adds some adlibs to this song, I’m sure he gave Julio his blessings for the blatant jack.

There is a hidden track on the cd version of The Brother With Two Tongues, which apparently is titled “Time To Get Busy, Busy”. Ace sounds a lot more animated that anything else on the album, and strangely sounds like a mixture of Onyx and Mr. Cheeks from Lost Boyz. This song is proof that animation doesn’t always equate to entertaining.

Mellow Man Ace didn’t sound spectacular on Escape From Havana, but he did have some solid moments. And even though the majority of the production wasn’t great, it still felt like the album’s foundation was cemented in hip-hop. On The Brother With Two Tongues, Ace sounds like a man struggling to find his identity throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, all in the name of trying to make a hit (bars!). While he does have some true blue hip-hop songs, he has just as many experimental ones, as he tries his hand in r&b (“What’s It Take To Pull A Hottie (Like You)?”), house (“Welcome To My Groove”), intentional pop (“Linda”) and comedy (“Ricky Ricardo of Rap”). Needless to say The Brother With Two Tongues fails, and would have been more suitably named The Brother With Multiple Personalities.

-Deebub

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Mellow Man Ace – Escape From Havana (August 30, 1989)

 

Ulpiano Sergio Reyes, better known to the world as Mellow Man Ace, is a Cuban born rapper who moved from Cuba to Los Angles with his family at the age of four in the early seventies. He’s often credited as being the father (or godfather) of the Spanglish (or bilingual) style, which combines Spanish and English words together in rhyme, within the same bar, verse or song. He’s best known for his 1989 hit debut single “Mentirosa” and for being the younger brother to Cypress Hill’s hype-man and secondary emcee, Sen Dog.

I’ve heard of Mellow Man Ace, but I’ve never listened to one of his albums, and honestly couldn’t name a single song of his, other than the single I mentioned above, but I’ve still never heard that song, either. I’m not sure what moved me to buy his second release, The Brother With Two Tongues, almost a year ago. Maybe my curiosity was sparked because of the role I knew he played in the history of Latino influenced hip-hop. Or the fact that I knew he was down with Cypress Hill. What ever the reason was, I bought the album.

A few weeks ago I was getting ready to dig into The Brother With Two Tongues for the blog, and while at one of my music spots, I ironically came across a copy of Mellow Man Ace’s debut album Escape From Havana. And since I already had his second album its only right that I start from beginning. So, respecting time and all of it’s illmaticness, I’ve decided to review his first two albums, back to back.

So, without further adieu, let’s jump into them, shall we?

Hip-Hop Creature – The Dust Brothers lay down a hard backdrop for the first song of the evening. Mellow Man Ace will never be confused for Rakim, but he actually sounds pretty sharp on this one. But the Dust Brother’s instrumental is the true star of this one. Great way to start Escape From Havana.

Mentirosa – This was the lead single from Escape From Havana that would go on to become the only top twenty hit on the Billboards Hot 100 for Mellow Man Ace. Tony G builds the instrumental around a slick loop from Santana’s “Evil Ways” and our host uses it to call out a lying and conniving female acquaintance. Ace raps most of the song in English, occasionally sliding Spanish words into his rhymes at the right time. This was dope.

Rhyme Fighter – Mellow Man Ace’s rhyme pattern sounds a lot like Kool Keith’s off-beat off-kilter stylings on this one. Come to think of it, even Tony G’s instrumental sounds a little reminiscent of a Ultramagnetic MC instrumental. Ace does a decent job imitating Keith on the first verse, but then quickly loses focus and his rhymes and flow get choppy. I still enjoyed Tony G’s instrumental, though.

If You Were Mine – This is Mellow Man Ace’s version of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love”, as he raps about making the woman of his dreams his lady, in the same soft tone LL used on his groundbreaking rap ballad. Ace’s rhymes are dated but decent, but the Kool & The Gang “Summer Madness” loop the instrumental is built around, sounds way more entertaining than LL’s cheesy Casio keyboard created backdrop.

River Cubano – Cuban from the river? Hmm…I’m not sure what that means, but Ace sounds comfortable and energetic spittin’ over DJ Muggs’ (who is credited as Grandmixer Muggs in the album’s credits) funky backdrop. This was decent.

Rap Guanco – Mellow Man Ace sticks to his Spanglish M-O, spitting his first verse in Spanish and the second in English. Tony G’s instrumental has a strong Caribbean feel, and he gives the listener some extended instrumentation before, in-between and after Ace’s verses. This isn’t a great song, but it makes for decent filler material.

Mas Pingon – Mas Pingon translates to “big dick”, “more dick”, “go to hell” or “go fuck yourself”. Again, Ace is rhyming in Spanish, so I’m not sure what he is saying, but he sure makes it sound raw as he yells his lyrics for the entire song. Matt Dike and Michael Ross hook up some stripped down drums and give the song a rock feel when they bring guitar licks in during the hook. This song is kind of like the Spanish version of LL’s “Rock The Bells”, and that’ a compliment.

Gettin’ Stupid – For you younger readers, “gettin’ stupid” back in the late eighties and early nineties was slang for “going hard” or “gettin’ busy”. Again, Mellow Man Ace is not a great lyricist, but he shows once again that he has a decent pen game. Johnny Rivers’ instrumental has a zany feel to it, but I like the horns he brings in on the hook. Overall, this was a decent listen.

Talkapella – B-Real gets credit for penning Ace’s rhymes for this one, so it should be no surprise that MMA sound pretty nice. But since Tony G uses the same Headhunters’s loop that KRS-One and Freddy Foxxx (aka Bumpy Knuckles) would completely annihilate a few years later (see Sex And Violence‘s “Ruff Ruff”), I can’t help but compare Ace’s rhymes to theirs. And of course, Ace pales in comparison. By the way, the song title is corny as hell.

B-Boy In Love – MMA picks up where he left off at on “If You Were Mine”. Tony G rips a loop from Rufus’ “Sweet Thang” for the verses and borrows a piece of The Isley Brothers’ “Groove With You” for the hook. Two safe samples, but they sound dope meshed together. Mellow Man’s love raps are a little cheesy, but you’ll definitely enjoy the instrumental work.

En La Casa – Mellow Man spits in Spanish for the entire song, and I have no idea what he’s rhyming about, but the song’s title translates to “in the house” or “at home”. So, I’m assuming he’s getting his “Rev Run on” on this one. Def Jef gets his only production credit of evening and unfortunately its very mediocre.

Enquentren Amor – Our host brings back the instrumental from “If You Were Mine” and talks about the same thing (I think) as the original, but this time he spits all his rhymes in Spanish. (Enquentren Amor in English translates to “find love”). And with that, Escape From Havana is done.

Escape From Havana starts out strong, with solid rhyming from Mellow Man Ace and dope production from his team. But by the beginning of the second quarter of the album until the end, things stay in that dreaded range of “decent to mediocre”, only occasionally showing signs of life. Mellow Man Ace isn’t a terrible emcee, but he definitely needs more potent production to hold the listener’s attention for an entire album. Lets see if he does that on The Brother With Two Tongues

-Deedub

 

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College Boyz – Radio Fusion Radio (April 7, 1992)

R.M.G. (I’m not sure what that acronym stands for…hit me in the comments if you know)was a four man crew out of Baytown Texas consisting of DJ Cue, Squeak, B. Selector and the lead emcee Rom, who most of you know as the actor Romany Malco (and who I will always associate with his drug dealing character Conrad Shepard from the Showtime series Weeds). In 1991 the four man crew decided to leave the south for Los Angeles in pursuit of a record deal, and after signing a deal with Virgin Records, they would change their name from R.M.G. to the College Boyz, and release their debut album, Radio Fusion Radio in 1992.

Radio Fusion Radio had a couple of singles that made some noise on the charts, but the album didn’t move a ton of units nor did it receive a lot of praise from the streets. The College Boyz would go onto to release one more album on Virgin (which did even worse commercially than their debut) before fading into the dark abyss that ninety percent of hip-hop acts dwell after their 15 minutes of fame in this here rap game expires.

I’ve never listened to Radio Fusion Radio before today, but bought it used for a few dollars on the strength of the lead single that I dug back in the day.

Random Factoid: Romany Malco wrote MC Skat Kat’s verse on Paula Abdul’s mash 1989 hit “Opposites Attract”.

Victim of The Ghetto – This was the first single from Radio Fusion Radio, and one of two songs I was actually familiar with before today. Tony Joseph and Eric “Quicksilver” Johnson loop up the same Eddie Kendrick’s loop that Kanye and D-Dot would use many years later for Nas’ “Papa Was A Playa” instrumental, and it sounds just as dope as the latter. Rom uses it to sing praises to the hood, while simultaneously admitting to being mentally trapped by the ghetto, as he raps “born and raised on the same damn concrete, and I’ll be put to sleep in these streets”. Shoutout to Brenda Jean Sims who puts her foot into singing the hook on this one. This song sounds as dope today as it did 25 plus years ago.

Interlude: Radio Fusion –  The first of many interludes that are apparently from the fictitious Radio Fusion Radio station that the album is built around.

Hollywood Paradox – This was the second single from Radio Fusion Radio. The production duo of Dez & Adonis loop up a portion of The Isley Brothers “For The Love Of You” for the backdrop, and Rom’s talking about people seeking success in Hollywood. Ironically, on the song’s finally verse Rom says “I ain’t one to front on my own kind, Hollywood ain’t nothin’ to me but a mother fuckin’ sign”, which is another paradox, considering his current occupation. But I digress. Overall, this was solid.

Politics of A Gangster – I’ve never heard of I-ROC or Jammin’ James Carter before today, but they turn a Barry White loop into a monster instrumental on this one. Rom uses it to share a tell of a young boy who gets tangled up with the Mafia. Rom’s story isn’t all that interesting, but when your instrumental bangs like this, who cares about a storyline?

Underground Blues – The CB’s slow things down a bit as Rom shares a few sad hood stories over a melodic melancholic backdrop that supports his content, perfectly. I like this one.

Interlude: The Homeless – A failed attempt at a funny interlude.

Rigmarole – This song is all over place. Over the course of three verses, Rom talks about his dislike of jeri curls and gangbangin’ and his love for bangin’ out fat girls and getting into fights on the subway. Humphrey Riley & DJ Ron Ski’s instrumental is garbage, which only adds salt to the already open wound.

Interlude: After The Messages – Useless interlude.

Interlude: Peter Pump – See comments from “Interlude: The Homeless”.

Interlude: I Gotcha – Really? Who sequences an album with three consecutive interludes? Oh yeah… the College Boyz do.

Humpin’ – Trash.

Interlude: Phone Sex – I must admit that I love the seductively funky instrumental playing underneath the moaning mistress on this short interlude.

College Boyz In The House – Rom’s opening line for this one is “we be lookin’ for the lyric and the flow”; well keep looking, fellas. While you’re at it, keep your eyes peeled for a better instrumental for the song too, because this bootleg New Jack Swing shit is trash.

Interlude: Concerned Parent – This interlude was actually pretty funny. The first one that made me laugh all night.

Real Man – Rom spits sub par cliché lines about what a “real man” does for his woman, which doesn’t go beyond sexing her and providing for her. While Rom’s rhymes sound like “wah wah wah” when Charlie Brown’s teacher, Miss Othmar is speaking, the r&b tinged Dez & Adonis instrumental kind of works. And who knew that Squeak (he is 1/4 of the College Boyz) could actually sing? He sounds pretty nice on the hook. Ultimately, the song fails because of its choppy format and numerous interruptions, courtesy of females calling into the faux radio station (I did find the comments about Freddy Jackson and Luther Vandross having big booties hi-larious).

Interlude: Highroller Parade – More uselessness.

How Ta Act – The Double Platinum Production team (which consist of Humphrey Riley, DJ Ron Ski and Wiz) samples Funkadelics’ way too often tapped “(Not Just) Knee Deep” for the backdrop, and it doesn’t even sound remotely innovative or interesting. Rom doesn’t help matters by spitting corny bars like “You know I can’t stand coffee, so wake the hell up and get a sniff of this forty”. This was terrible.

Interlude: Tips of The Day – And even more uselessness.

Funky Quartet – Doo-wop meets hip-hop on this one. The instrumental (whose production is credited to a Karl F. Stephenson) borrows the bass line from Betty Wright’s “Tonight Is The Night” and adds some pretty piano chords to it. Rom’s rhymes are unimpressive (what’s up with his obsession of overdose, suicide, homicide, DOA and genocide? This is the third song on Radio Fusion Radio that he mentions what he refers to as the “five faces of death”) but Squeak and company sound dope harmonizing on the hook over the melodic backdrop.

Interlude: Who The Fuck Is This? – And this is the  final useless interlude of Radio Fusion Radio.

Politics of A Gangster Dub – This instrumental was so dope the College Boyz decided to bring it back without Rom’s rhymes, so you can enjoy it without any distractions (well, less distractions…the adlibs were left in). And Radio Fusion Radio is done.

Radio Fusion Radio could have been a strong EP, had it ended after “Underground Blues”. But it doesn’t. It continues on for 16 additional tracks, of which nine, yes, nine, are interludes (and only one of the nine is actually worth your while), and only two of the remaining six songs (excluding the “Politics of A Gangster Dub”) are worthy of your time. Hence, Radio Fusion Radio winds up being a directionless underwhelming collection of songs with really bad cover artwork…and way too many interludes.

-Deedub

 

 

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J Rock – Streetwize (1991)

One of the reasons I love doing this blog is no matter how much I’m engulfed in the culture or how much of a hip-hop historian I think I am, there is always an artist and/or an album that I missed. Today’s post is one of those artist and albums. J Rock’s Streetwize.

According to the liner notes from the 2007 reissue of Streetwize, that I found at Cheapos in the used bins still wrapped in its original packaging for less than ten bucks (which is an awesome deal, since you can’t find it online for less than $100): In 1989 J Rock was a eighteen-year-old inspiring emcee out of Newburgh, NY. He was discovered by Jeff Murphy who at the time had an independent label called Ghetto Groovz. Murphy would help J Rock release his debut single in 1990 (“The Chosen One”), which didn’t make a ton of noise, but later that same year, he did make some noise when he was featured in the once highly coveted Unsigned Hype column of the December 1990 issue of The Source. J Rock and Murphy would take advantage of the newly found buzz and release J Rock’s debut album Streetwize in 1991.

J Rock would produce a large chunk of the album, with Eazy Moe Bee contributing, as well as DJ Premier. The album received favorable reviews upon its release, including a lukewarm three mics from The Source, even though Big B sung praises to J Rock throughout the review. Spine Magazine journalist, Chris Aylen was bold enough to say: “This (Streetwize) is like the Amerikka’s Most Wanted of the New York ghetto.

I say Chris Aylen was either on to something or on something.

Let Me Introduce Myself – J Rock begins Streetwize with a decent self-produced instrumental, and he sounds pretty decent on the mic as he displays some solid wordplay and witty bars.

Under Arrest – This is a short interlude with a funky piano loop that takes on a dark feel when J Rock adds what sounds like slamming bars to a jail cell. This all sets up the next song…

Streetwize – Our host uses the title song to address the daily happenings in the streets of any inner city across America. He talks about everything from baggin’ bad chicks, packin’ heat, selling drugs, dealing with cops, and sounds fly when he spits bars like “No drugs are being sold on the ave, I just laugh, cause I’m clean like a bath”. J Rock’s backdrop sounds like a slightly sped up version of the instrumental he used for “Let Me Introduce Myself”, with an added smooth horn loop on the hook, giving the track a little more life.

Brutality – J Rock spits one quick verse about what he calls “every black man’s nightmare”: getting their ass beat by a white cop for simply being black. Premo’s backdrop (with a co-production credit going to J Rock) has an eerie vocal sample that gives the song a dark feel, but I’m not crazy about the heavy drums he lays underneath it. Furthermore, J Rock forces his rhymes to fit the beat and it winds up sounding super amateurish.

The Pimp – Premo get his second production credit of the evening, and this one’s a banger. Dope bass line, sick loop and slick signature Premo cuts on the hook, are all elements that make this one a certified monster. It almost feels like Premo’s backdrop sparks J Rock’s creative energy, as he spits sharp battle rhymes and his flow sounds fresher than any of the songs prior to this one. This one goes hard, and will definitely make you want to bitch slap the shit out of somebody. #Pimpshit.

The Shakedown – J Rock clearly had some bad run-in’s with the po-po, since this is the third song out of the first six he talks about cops on. This time he calls out the crooked cops who harass and shakedown brothers in the name of the law, but really do it to pad their own pockets. J hooks up a decent instrumental that kind of reminds me of Scarface’s “Money And The Power”. J’s content is solid, unfortunately his stiff delivery derails all the positive aspects of this song.

Neighborhood Drug Dealer – I’m sure you can figure out what this song is about based on the song title, but if you can’t: J Rock paints the picture of a drug dealer from the hood and the fate that awaits all big time drug dealers who aren’t named Shawn Carter. The deep rumbling bass line gives credibility to the song, and the KRS-One vocal sample (courtesy of “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)” from Edutainment) is a nice added touch to the hook.

Don’t Sleep On Me – Our host takes a brief break from his heavy street commentary, and lightens the mood with some light-hearted bars. J Rock’s rhymes and delivery on this one remind me of a combination of D.I.T.C members, Lord Finesse and AG. But as nice as J sounds on this one, his instrumental is the true star. This song is perfect for playing while cruisin’ (is cruisin’ still even a thing?) on a sunny summer afternoon.

Root Of All Evil – Possibly one of the most misquoted bibles verses is 1 Timothy 6:10, which reads the “love of money is the root of all evil”. Money in and of itself, is not evil, but the love (or lust) of it is the root of all evil. J Rock uses his verses on this song to call out preachers, politician, pushers and the general population and the ill deeds they partake in the pursuit of the green stuff, but like many, he omits that all important verb (love) from his hook. J’s lyrics are cool, but the instrumental is way too happy-go-lucky to support his content, in my opinion.

The Messiah – J Rock hooks up a dope instrumental that almost sounds like something Premo might have created. He then proceeds to talk his shit and spit battle bars as he claims to be the Messiah of this rap shit. God emcee, J Rock is not, but the song is still pretty dope, though.

Ghetto Law – Premier works his magic again and lays down a funky instrumental laced with his signature razor-sharp cuts and vocal scratches on the hook, as our host continues to boast of his lyrical greatness. It’s definitely not J Rock’s best lyrical performance on Streetwize, (I love the line “Knock you out like a lightweight, girls wanna swallow the lyrics that I ejaculate”), but he doesn’t derail the dopeness of Premo’s production work.

Around My Way – Over a decent backdrop Mr. Rock discusses the happenings in his neck of the woods, aka the concrete jungle. He covers everything from crackheads to drug dealers, to teenage moms and athletes who never reached their full potential. It’s not a terrible song, but definitely filler material.

The Real One – Over a laid back backdrop, our host spits one quick verse, again, boasting about he lyrical prowess. He does spit some clever bars like “I’m from upstate, my home’s a rough place, you wanna try and bass, then you’ll get a punched face” (again reminding me of Lord Finesse with his delivery and word connection), but the instrumental is sleepy and damn near put me to sleep…*yawn*.

Another Tough Guy – J Rock continues to walk on the dark side with his social commentary. This time he paints the picture of fatherless boy whose mom worked two jobs to put food on the table, and with both parents absent, the boy goes on to join a gang, sell drugs and ultimately, go to prison. A story that unfortunately, too many brothers have lived out. J Rock’s flow is kind of corny on this one, but the content hits home and the reggae-tinged instrumental is pretty slick.

Dead – Quick interlude that has a father getting word from the police that his son is dead. This sets up the next song…

Save The Children – Apparently this was the first single from Streetwize. J Rock flips the same Love Unlimited loop that Above The Law used on “Flow On” (from Livin’ Like Hustlers), as he discusses the violence that kids in America face and stresses the importance of making sure our youth are protected. The urgency of J Rock’s instrumental brings out our host’s strong content. And as bleak as J Rock’s content is, the uplifting horn loop during the chorus almost serves at a glimmer of hope for a brief moment. This was brilliantly.

Cazanova – J Rock’s in pimp mode on this one, as he brags about how much of a ladies man he is. It was kind of weird to have this sequenced after the masterpiece that was “Save The Children”, but sequencing couldn’t make this dragging instrumental sound entertaining.

Let’s Get It Together – Finally, after all the depressing content from the previous songs, J Rock looks to inspire as he calls for the black community to come together and make a change. Unfortunately, his bland backdrop does little to inspire and his flow is at its sloppiest.

Get Rek – For you younger whippersnappers, “catching wreck” was a slang term commonly used in the nineties by emcees when they felt they were in a zone with the flow, or as J Rock spells it “rek”. Over a nasty Easy Moe Bee instrumental, J does just what the title suggest. Next to “The Pimp” this is the best J’s rhymes and flow sound on Streetwize.

Neighborhood Drug Dealer (Remix) – J Rock taps Premo to produce this remix. While the original mix had more of a dark feel, thanks to a thick bass line, Premo gives it a bit of jazzy after hours feel that sounds pretty dope, especially during the hook when he brings the piano loop in.

The 2007 reissued print of Streetwize includes the following additional songs:

Don’t Sleep On Me (Remix) – This remix has absolutely nothing on the original.

Save The Children (Remix) – J Rock adds an additional verse to this remix. The instrumental is decent but too laid back and doesn’t sound intense enough to support J Rock’s dense content.

Streetwize lives up to its name, as it’s chock-full of dark and vivid street tales. Most of the content is depressing, but J Rock dilutes the darkness by throwing in a light-hearted song boasting of his lyrical or sexual prowess, every now and then. Speaking of lyrics, J Rock is far from the “Rap Messiah” that he claims to be throughout the album, but he is a decent emcee that shows flashes of greatness on a few songs (i.e. “The Pimp” and “Get Rek”). The production on Streetwize is what truly carries the album. The Premo produced tracks are the clear standouts, but don’t sleep on J Rock’s production skills, as he does a pretty solid job behind the boards, cooking up a few spectacular joints in the process (i.e. “Don’t Sleep On Me” and “Save The Children”). Streetwize is not a great album, but it definitely deserves more respect than just being remembered as that album Premo did some of his earliest production work on.

-Deedub

 

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