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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Nikki D – Daddy’s Little Girl (September 3, 1991)

The subject of today’s post is yet another one hit wonder that also makes for a great hip-hop trivia question. Nikki D was born in Newark, NJ, but later migrated to Los Angeles where she would continue to hone her raps skills, eventually catching the attention of Russell Simmons, who would sign her to Def Jam in 1989, making her the first female artist signed to the legendary label (there’s your great trivia question). Two years later in 1991, Nikki D would release her debut album Daddy’s Little Girl.

Nikki would bring in a handful of producers to help sculpt the sound of Daddy’s Little Girl, including such names as: S.I.D.(Flavor Unit affiliate), Eric Sadler (Bomb Squad), Large Professor, The Leaders of the New School, Sam Sever and Prince Paul. Even with all those respected names behind it, the album would only produce one hit single (the title track), which would climb all the way to number 1 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles. But the album rendered dismal numbers, especially when you consider it was a Def Jam release.

According to a Nikki D interview I recently listened to, even after the commercial failure of Daddy’s Little Girl, Def Jam still wanted her to release a follow-up album. She said the album was fully produced by the Bomb Squad and completed, but would be shelved, never to see the light of day. She would eventually ask Russell to let her out of her contract, to which he obliged, and she would sign with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit, where things wouldn’t get much better for her rap career. Nikki grew tired and frustrated by the politics and business of the industry and walked away from the mic to take on roles behind the scenes with both Def Jam and Flavor Unit through the years, but she would never release another album.

I came across a used CD copy of Daddy’s Little Girl at one of my frequents a few months ago for a couple bucks. Since I loved the lead single, I bought it and hoped to find some other hidden jewels. This marks my first time listening to the album, so let’s start diggin’.

Daddy’s Little Girl – Nikki kicks the album off with the title track, whose instrumental jacks, I mean, liberally borrows, from the classic DNA/Suzanne Vega record, “Tom’s Diner”. Nikki uses the dark backdrop to talk about being a young and very promiscuous girl, which ends with her getting into some trouble that she keeps a secret from her dad (even though the song is thirty years old, I won’t spoil the plot for you young bucks that may have never heard it before). I loved this song back in the day, mainly for S.I.D.’s dope instrumental, which still sounds amazing today, but now that I’m a dad with four daughters, Nikki’s rhymes sound like a nightmare.

Monday We’ll Be Together – Nikki’s content is a little too abstract to follow on this one, but I think she’s talking about finding the right man; at least she is for a portion of the song. The Leaders of the New School are credited for the mellow instrumental, and they lend a helping hand with the hook. I wasn’t crazy about Nikki’s rhymes, but the mellow jazzy instrumental was pleasant.

Hang On Kid – S.I.D. gets his second production credit of the night (he also produced “Daddy’s Little Girl”), as he builds this dope instrumental around an ill piano loop. Nikki uses it to talk about the trials, tribs and lessons she learned in her childhood, and S.I.D. joins in, spittin’ a rare verse as well (his vocal tone reminds me of Parrish Smith’s). This was dope.

The Beauty Shop – After a short interlude exchange between Busta Rhymes and Nikki, LONS gets their second production credit of the evening, as they slide Nikki a super dry backdrop that finds our hostess dissin’ chicks who get plastic surgery, use to much make-up or are just plain ugly. This was super corny.

All About You – Over a hard backdrop, Nikki shouts out a dude she’s feelin’, and he’s got her wide open. This is a great example of what a hardcore hip-hop love song can sound like without the r&b crooner and formulaic r&b chords. Well done, Nikki.

Sunny Daze – Nikki uses this one to celebrate relaxation, being outside and expresses her appreciation for the sunshine. It’s not a great track, but it makes for decent filler material.

Wasted P!*#Y – This one starts out sounding like it’s going to be an emotional soul stirring record, then the rough and raw beat drops (credited to Eric Sadler of the Bomb Squad, with a co-credit going to Epitome Of Scratch), and Nikki commences to call out all the loose Lakesha’s and Heidi hoes. It’s kind of like a hood PSA on the dangers of hoeing. I appreciate Nikki’s concern and effort, but there’s really no need to listen to this one more than once.

Your Man Is My Man – After scolding ladies for hoeing on the previous track, Nikki boasts about being a side chick on this one, which left me wanting to introduce the pot to the kettle. It was also strange to hear the uncredited male voice saying “You need to learn how to share, cause your man is her man” on the hook. The instrumental (which is credited to Smooth Ice and a “post-production and remix” credit going to Large Professor) is a banger that goes hard.

18 And Loves To Go – Nikki’s back to pointing fingers again. This time she takes aim at an eighteen-year-old girl who loves to get her freak on. You’d think that “Daddy’s Little Girl” would have a little more understanding and compassion, but instead, she comes off judgmental. Maybe Nikki’s message helped deter another young woman from going through her hoe phase, but whatever the case, S.I.D.’s instrumental is dope.

Another Man Is Beatin’ My Time – Now this is an interesting song idea. Nikki shares two stories about two different dudes that she dated, only to later find out they were on the down low. It was kind of funny to hear her say “I never had a clue of the fact, that another man was ridin’ his back” then in the very next line she says, “I guess I should have known when he acted like a bitch, wearing my clothes and walkin’ with a switch”. You “guess you should have known”? Sounds like crystal clear warning signs that hindsight wouldn’t even forgive you for missing. In this current state of ultra-sensitive political correctness, I’m sure people would have a problem with some of Nikki’s content, but the DL lifestyle is a real thing. S.I.D. serves up a decent dance track, but it sounds odd paired with Nikki’s X-rated content.

Gotta Up The Ante For The Panties – The song title pretty much sums this one up. Nikki lets the fellas know that if you want to taste her punani you must do more than wine and dine her and buy her gifts, but she never lets you know what that “more” is. This song did nothing for me. Next…

Freak Accident – Prince Paul gets his only production credit of the evening, as he slides Nikki a zany backdrop that she uses to spin a tale about infidelity and domestic violence. Nikki’s man is apparently on vacation without her for weeks (how he managed to go on vacation for that long without his lady is an impressive feat), so she decides to seek out some side dick. But her man returns unexpectedly, catching her in the act and commences to roughing her side dude up and beating her ass as well. Nikki’s storyline was semi-interesting, and it also felt a little uncomfortable to hear her make light of domestic abuse, but you can’t really spit serious bars over a bizarre instrumental like this.

Lettin’ Off Steam (Club Mix) – The final song of the evening finds Nikki in battle mode, “shootin’ the gift”, as she lets off a little steam, and Flavor Flav drops by to add some energetic adlibs for his labelmate. Sam Sever gets his only production credit of the night, hooking up a dope instrumental built around an ill bass line and a rough guitar loop. This is easily one of the strongest songs on the album.

On Daddy’s Little Girl, Nikki proves to be a decent lyricist with a strong voice, and she actually covers a variety of topics on her debut album, but most of her content tends to float aimlessly, never arriving anywhere, making most of her rhymes sound empty and incomplete. On the production side, there isn’t one terrible instrumental on the album, but when you consider the esteemed names that helped sculpt the album’s sound, I was left a bit disappointed by the overall output. Daddy’s Little Girl is a semi-decent album that shows some of Nikki’s potential; it’s unfortunate she never got a chance to build on it.

-Deedub

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Ruler’s Back (July Slick Rick – The2, 1991)

After making a tremendous first impression with Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew on their classic record “The Show”, and arguably even more classic B-side, “La Di Da Di”, Slick Rick decided it was time to leave the group and go solo. Being the hot commodity that he was at the time, it didn’t take long before the labels came knocking at his door. Russell Simmons’ knock would be the most appealing to the England born emcee, and he would sign to the fledgling Def Jam label, where he would release his debut solo album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick in 1988, and the album would go on to be a platinum selling success that most consider a classic (you can read my thoughts on that album right…here). It appeared that Slick Rick was on the verge of becoming the next bona-fide hip-hop superstar, then everything changed on July 3, 1990.

As the story goes, Rick was beefing with his cousin/bodyguard, which ended with Rick firing two shots: one hitting his cousin in the foot, and the other hitting and injuring an innocent bystander. Rick was charged with a plethora of charges (including two counts of attempted murder) and would end up be sentenced to three to ten years in prison of which he would end up serving a total of five years. Rick was still under contract with Def Jam at the time, so Russell Simmons temporarily bailed him out of jail, and in that limit time frame, Rick would record what would be his second album, The Ruler’s Back.

The Ruler’s Back would be mostly produced by Vance Wright with some co-production help from Slick Rick himself. The album produced a couple of hit singles and would climb to 29 on the Billboards Top 200 but would fail to match the commercial success of its predecessor. The streets and the critics felt the album was rushed and didn’t feel it was a proper follow-up to The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (his 1994 album, fittingly titled, Behind Bars, would face the same criticism).

I remember a couple of the singles off The Ruler’s Back from back in the day, but I’ve never listened to the album in its entirety before today. Hopefully, time has been kinder to the album than the critics and fans were when it was first released.

King – Rick wastes no time getting to work, as he and Vance Wright slap us in the head with a frantic-paced banger that Rick uses to regally and eloquently proclaim the thrown of this here rap shit. Rick has always been revered for his uncanny ability to paint vivid pictures with rhymes, but he proves on this one that he’s no slouch when it comes to boasting and bragging either, as he sounds fresh and focused with a nimble tongue. The mix could have been tighter, as some of Rick’s rhymes are a strain to hear over the bangin’ backdrop, but other than that this was a great way to start the show.

I Shouldn’t Have Done It – This was the lead single from The Ruler’s Back. V. Wright hooks up a danceable track for Rick to get into his first story of the night. This one finds Rick coming from the perspective of a cheating man whose infidelity leads to his woman committing suicide. The upbeat-feel good-head-nod inducing instrumental seems to contradict Rick’s rather dark content, but the poorly mixed vocals make it easy to focus more on the music than Rick’s rhymes.

Bond – Rick gets into 007 mode on this one, and after at least fifteen listens to this song over the past few weeks, I still have no idea what Rick’s mission is or what the hell is going on during this sketchy storyline. He lost me during his first few bars when he stepped off the plane in Columbia. Oh well, at least you can vibe out to V. Wright’s bangin’ backdrop.

Moses – Rick takes us to church on this one, as he goes into the bible and spits a quick three verses summarizing the Moses/Pharaoh conflict chronicled in the book of Exodus, which is one of my favorite bible stories, by the way. As I’ve already mentioned a few times, the mix makes it hard to hear some of Rick’s rhymes, and some of his bars sound rushed, but I still enjoyed the content and the reggae-tinged backdrop.

Tonto – Like “Bond”, the details of Rick’s story are hard to follow. Unlike “Bond”, the instrumental is super lackluster.

Mistakes Of A Woman In Love With Other Men – Now that’s a mouthful for a song title. V. Wright and Rick cook up a slightly dark instrumental for our host to share the details that led up to him finding out that his lady has been sleeping with other men, and now he’s feeling suicidal. The bluesy groove matches Rick’s melancholic content, and this is easily one of the best mixed songs on the album.

Venus – After nearly offing himself on the previous song, Rick bounces back, nicely when he meets the girl of his dreams, “’round Wall Street” of all places. Rick spits one quick verse about the encounter, before singing a little Frankie Avalon to close things out (and he actually has a decent singing voice). V. Wright’s instrumental reminds me of an up-tempo version of “Hey Young World”, and I enjoyed it, but Rick’s rhymes and song concept sound incomplete.

Ship – Over a stripped-down basic drumbeat, Rick goes for broke and picks up where he left off at on “King”, spewing fresh lines like: “How slick ya? You best get the picture, the one-eyed kid, remain victor”. The rhymes sound a bit rushed, but there’s no denying that Rick could rhyme his ass off.

It’s A Boy – This was the third single released from The Ruler’s Back. An enthusiastic Rick talks about the joys of welcoming his newborn son into the world over a decent V. Wright produced instrumental. I wasn’t crazy about this one back in the day and it still doesn’t grab me, but the video was pretty cool and original.

Top Cat – I wasn’t feeling this one.

Runaway – Rick and V. Wright hook up an up-tempo backdrop, dripping with Island vibes that our host uses to discuss his lady love who’s leaving him for another man. Rick sure loves to write about heartbreak. Rick sounds cool on this one, but the feel-good instrumental carries the song.

Slick Rick – The Ruler – The final song of the evening features a Mr. Lee produced techno dance track that has Rick rhyming with a vocal distortion filter. When you combine that filter with the super low vocal levels, there’s not a man or woman alive who could quote the song’s lyrics verbatim. I can’t believe the powers that be at Def Jam let this embarrassingly amateur mix sneak out on the album’s final cut.

The Ruler’s Back isn’t, as Rick’s British ancestors might say, complete rubbish. Most of the instrumentals are actually dope and entertaining; it’s all the other elements that burden the album. The bulk of Rick’s stories sound incomplete, not well-thought out or just plain uninteresting, which in his defense, I don’t know how focused one would be on songwriting when getting ready to serve a significant amount of time behind bars like he was at the time. When you couple that with the extremely poor mixing and mastering of the vocals with the music, the end results are a frustrating listen from an extremely talented emcee, and thirty years hasn’t helped heal the wounds.

-Deedub

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Whodini – Bag-A-Trix (March 19, 1991)

Before we get into this post, I want to say rest in peace to John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, who passed away on December 23, 2020.

After starting their career on Jive and giving the label four albums in five years (between 1983 and 1987), with three of the four albums selling gold or better, Whodini were wily vets, who suddenly found themselves without a label home. With the emergence of artist and groups like LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and Big Daddy Kane in the late eighties, the sound of hip-hop begin to transform from a fun party feel to a more hardcore, lyric-driven genre. Whodini, who were all still in their twenties as the eighties ended, begin to be perceived as “old rappers” that helped pioneer the genre, but whose better days were behind them, and the industry no longer had a need for them. But the three-man team kept their heads up, regrouped and signed a deal with MCA, where they would release their fifth album in 1991, Bag-A-Trix.

Whodini would call on longtime collaborative partner, Larry Smith (rip) to help produce Bag-A-Trix, along with Fresh Gordon Pickett and Major Jam Productions. Bag-A-Trix would produce two singles that made minimal noise, and it would be the first Whodini album since their self-titled debut to not earn at least a gold RIAA certification. Bag-A-Trix was not only a commercial failure for the trio, but the critic’s reviews and the street’s reception of the album were not positive either, and soon, Whodini would sever ties with MCA, and once again be looking for a new label to call home.

I came across a used cd copy of Bag-A-Trix a few months ago and have never listened to the album before now. Hopefully, Whodini was able to pull a magic potion out of their old dusty Bag-A-Trix and make the album age well, but I doubt it.

The Intro – After a few opening words from Ecstasy, he and Jalil each spit a verse to flirt with the ladies over a stripped-down Larry Smith produced backdrop (Rev Run gets a co-production credit and a writing credit on this one) that minimalistically flips a couple of loops from a classic Barry White record (ironically titled: “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me”. By the way, Barry White might have the longest song titles in the history of music!) to damn near perfection. Jalil sounds like he had a mouth full of marbles when he recorded his verse, but everything else about this song was solid.

Judy – This was the second single released from Bag-A-Trix. Ecstasy, Jalil and Grandmaster Dee are all vying for the lust and affection of a brown-eyed, brown-skinned cutie named Judy. Ecstasy falls for her on the first verse, Jalil on the second, and we find out on the final verse that Grandmaster Dee has been hooking up with Judy long before Ecstasy and Jalil came into the picture. I’m curious as to why Dee didn’t tell Jalil he was hookin’ up with Judy, since he was riding shotgun in Jalil’s whip the night Jalil and Judy met. I’m probably putting too much thought into this, so, I’ll just chalk it up to the fellas did a poor job following through with the details in their storyline. Besides that minor mishap, and the fact that Ecstasy and Jalil both ape Kool Moe Dee’s flow and vocal tone (come to think of it, even the instrumental sounds like Moe Dee’s “They Want Money”), this makes for a mildly entertaining bop.

Freaks – Not to be confused with one of Whodini’s biggest hits, “Freaks Come Out At Night”. This was the lead single from Bag-A-Trix that Whodini uses to call out all those closeted freaks. If the Me Too Movement was around in the early nineties, they would have destroyed Ecstasy for his first verse, as he can’t wrap his head around why a chick named Pam, who’s already getting freaky with three other guys at a party, wouldn’t be okay with him joining in on the fun. Then he decides to creep up and start gyrating on her without first asking for permission, and when she rejects him, he response with: “Now hold up baby, tell me how you’re livin’, there’s three guys on you, so four should be thrillin'”. He ends his verse by asking: “Is Pam a freak or am I delirious?”. Well, both can be true: Pam is definitely a freak, and Ecstasy is delirious (and a creep) for thinking he could just push up on her without getting prior approval. Jalil’s verse is horrible, followed by a questionable second verse from Ecstasy (how can one be a feminist and a male chauvinist at the same time?), but worse than Ecstasy’s misogynistic antics and the horrible writing is the corny hook and the cheesy synth-heavy instrumental.

Smilin’ Faces Sometimes – Our hosts use this one to address all those people out there who smile in your face, but their hearts are filled with all kinds of deception. The credits list a bunch of different writers on this one, which might be why Jalil sounds so off during his opening bars (I couldn’t tell if he was rapping or spittin’ a spoken word). Larry Smith’s instrumental sounds like a natural progression of what I’d expect a Larry Smith instrumental to sound like in the early nineties, and that’s a good thing.

Bag-A-Trix – The title track finds Ecstasy and Jalil getting duped by chicks named Bubbles and Rainbow, respectively. Why any man would trust a woman with one of those two names is beyond me. From the zany backdrop to the silly rhymes and the throw away hook, this song is all kinds of horrendous.

Taste Of Love – The fellas get into their suave-romantic bag on this one, as Ex and Jalil take turns swapping cliché love bars to woo the objects of their erections out of their panties. The lyrics were cheese, but the old man in me semi-enjoyed the sophisticated sounds of Fresh Gordon’s instrumental and the sultry voices of Khadejia Bass and Julia Brereton (whom we last heard on MC Shan’s “I Want To Thank You”) singing on the hook.

Inside The Joint – Whodini tries to get fly and talk their boastful shit on this one, but that’s never really been their strong suit, and this song is not the exception.

Lover Or Friends – Ex and Jalil discuss the struggles that come with trying to maintain a romantic relationship while touring the globe for six months at a time. It appears that Jalil finds his Mrs. Right, but Ecstasy doesn’t, which might have more to do with his own indecisiveness: during his first verse he smashes his lady friend, then tells her they should just be friends before he skips town for six months to tour. Then six months later he comes home, and he’s hurt when he finds out she’s been dating other men. Negro, please. All in all, this is a cool little r&b flavored hip-hop joint that has aged fairly well.

The Party Don’t Start – Ecstasy and Jalil are joined by a Dynasty and Mimi on this posse affair aimed at getting the party started, or as the kids say, lit (Do the kids still say “lit”? Damn, I’m getting old). This might have gone over better in 1986, but by 1991 standards, Whodini and their guests sound like seventy-year old’s trying to sound hip. To add insult to injury, Fresh Gordon’s instrumental is horrid.

Day To Day – Whodini goes into their conscious bag on this one, as Ex and Ja tackle some of the issues that plaque the black community, like violence, unemployment and poverty. I’m always rooting for a positive hip-hop record, but you still must make the message entertaining or intriguing for the people to receive it; Whodini does neither with this one.

Milk My Cow – This may be the worst hip-hop song every created, and I’m not exaggerating.

Nite For Jammin’ – It’s Friday and Whodini is ready to step out for a night on the town. They wrote a song about it, you wanna hear it? Here it goes. I couldn’t really get into this one, but there is a smooth break at the beginning, in between verses, and at the end of the song that I thoroughly enjoyed.

That’s Life – Major Jam Productions hooks up a feeble New Jack Swingish instrumental that our hosts use to give shallow examples of the ups and downs that come with living this life. Next…

Bad Case Of Love – Whodini wraps up Bag-A-Trix with a spoken word storyline that finds Ecstasy and Jalil playing private investigators for their own agency, Whodini Private Eye. The duo is hired by a beautiful woman to track the activities of her husband that she suspects is cheating on her and their six kids (Jalil hi-larious response to finding out his client has six with: “I couldn’t believe that body had bore six kids, as boomin’ as it was”). The ending was a bit anti-climactic, but Whodini does a solid job of keeping the story interesting.

Bag-A-Trix begins with Ecstasy sharing a question that he says he’s often asked: “Who is Whodini?”, to which he replies: “Well, ya know…that’s one of those questions…that sorta make ya say…hmmm”. Ecstasy’s opening statement pretty much sums up Bag-A-Trix, as Whodini sounds like a group that once strived in an analog world and are now struggling to find their footing, placement and identity in a more advanced digital one. There are a few decent songs on the album, but most of Bag-A-Trix is plagued with cheesy instrumentation and dated instrumentals, while Ecstasy and Jalil spend most of the album sounding like old men trying to run in a five-on-five pick-up game in dress socks and loathers with a bunch of hungry young boys. Unfortunately, Whodini’s Bag-A-Trix didn’t come with that magic potion I hoped for.

-Deedub

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MC Shan – Play It Again, Shan (April 11, 1990)

The last time we checked in with MC Shan was on his 1988 sophomore effort, Born To Be Wild, which I felt was average at best (you can read my complete thoughts on BTBW by clicking this link), and I’d be willing to bet the majority of those who heard the album would agree. I’m also sure that one person will read this post and tell me that I don’t know shit about hip-hop and proclaim Born To Be Wild as the greatest album ever made, which is cool; because art is subjective, and we can agree to disagree. Two years later, Shan would return in 1990 to release his third and final album on Cold Chillin’, Play It Again, Shan.

For his first two albums, Shan relied solely on Marley Marl to sonically shape the sound of his music. This time around, Marley doesn’t receive a single production credit. Instead, Shan, along with John Ficarrotta (whom from this point on, I’ll only refer to as “Shan-John”) would produce the entire album. PIAS would produce a few trivial singles that resulted in poor albums sells, which may be the reason Shan was dropped from Cold Chillin’ after its release. Shan claims his disappearance from the industry was fueled by record exec and television producer, Benny Medina, who allegedly had him black-balled after Shan refused his sexual advances and called him the f-word that rhymes with maggot. Shan also claims his refusal to sleep with Benny cost him the role that Will Smith would eventually get as the lead man on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Personally, I find his first claim more believable than the latter.

Let’s jump into Play It Again, Shan and hope it doesn’t sound as corny as the album cover looks.

Ain’t It Good To You – This song starts with an epically funky break beat, before suddenly morphing into a techno beat that Shan uses to boast and talk his shit over. I could have done without the female vocalist (Carole Davis) on the hook, but Shan finds his pocket and gives up quality bars; and I actually enjoyed the instrumental.

I Ran The Game – Shan spins a tale about two chicks he met in Wisconsin, Vivian and Polly, who have an elaborate plan to “wine and work him” over for his loot. But little do they know that Shan is scheming too (side note: Shan’s description of Polly’s “big bold ass and rhinestone tits” sure sounds delicious!). Shan’s story gets a little hard to follow during the middle portion and the ending is anticlimactic, but it’s still not a terrible song.

Ain’t It Funkin’ – Shan continues to prove he can spit solid bars, as he flows over the mystical sounds of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” and a funky harmonica loop. This was pretty dope.

It Ain’t A Hip-Hop Record – Shan-John hooks up a house beat that Shan uses to spend half of the song explaining why this is not a hip-hop record, and the other half telling us that it’s built on a hip-hop foundation. Contradiction, much. Shan sounds confused, the instrumental was dull, and you will always lose cool points for repeating the same verse twice in a song.

Death Was Quite A Surprise – Shan uses this drab backdrop to share a tale about a dude named Tic-Tac, who goes from being a humble kid earning his money legitimately to a big time drug dealer; and I’m sure you figured out from the song title that things don’t end well for Tic Tac (I’m convinced the only reason Shan used Tic-Tac for the main character’s name was to get off the “Tic-Tac’s toe” line on the final verse). The instrumental and the storyline were blah, but I did enjoy the Richard Pryor vocal sample (which kind of sounds like Marley Marl’s drunk uncle adlib voice) on the hook.

Walking On Sunshine – Shan-John hooks up stripped-down drums for Shan to talk his shit over, and they cleverly bring in a rough rock guitar loop and a smooth vocal harmony sample (courtesy of Central Line) in between the verses. This was dope, and easily one of the strongest songs on PIAS.

Rock Stuff – Based on the song title and the experimental feel of PIAS so far, I thought for sure our host was going to rap over a rock-flavored instrumental. Instead, he uses the plain Jane backdrop to rap a PSA about the dangers of crack cocaine. It was a noble deed to make an anti-drug record, but that doesn’t negate the fact that this shit was corny.

Clap Your Hands – Shan takes a potty break and lets the female duo, M+M (pronounced “M and M” like the classic candy and the alias of the legendary Detroit emcee, Marshall Mathers) hold things down while he tinkles. From the rhymes to the instrumental, this is nothing more than a poorly executed imitation of JJ Fad’s “Supersonic”. Next…

Music You Can Dance To – Shan attempts to fuse country music with hip-hop on this one. Like you probably surmised after you read the previous sentence, it doesn’t work. The only dancing this song made me think about doing was a square dance…and they all promenade.

Time For Us To Defend Ourselves – Shan-John combines bangin’ drums with a dark, airy and eerie sample to set the mood for Shan’s dimly lit content about police brutality in the black community: “Tales from the rhyme side, fact or fiction, I look at justice as pain infliction, sit back, relax while I bust this, there’s a big loophole in justice, law enforcement to serve and protect, but in my neighborhood they break your neck, police are ruthless-minded, wicked and villainous, but not just I see your killin’ us”. Thirty years later, and Shan’s content couldn’t be more relevant.

It Don’t Mean A Thing – Shan continues to throw shit against the wall to see if it’ll stick. This time he dabbles with a go-go beat and spews rhymes aimed at getting the listeners off their butts and on to the dance floor. The hook (which borrows the refrain from Ella Fitzgerald’s classic of the same name and is sung by Carole Davis) is borderline laughable and Shan’s rhymes are fluff, but I kind of enjoyed the go-go groove on this one…in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

I Want To Thank You – Shan continues to try new things on PIAS. This time lickin’ his singing chops for the first two verses and rapping about his gratitude for the lady he loves on the final verse. Shan receives a few helping hands, as he invites Kadejia Bass and Julia Brereton to sing the hook on this song that sounds like a hybrid between Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It To My Heart” and Shannon’s “Let The Music Play”. This was a blatant pop crossover attempt that failed, miserably.

Got To Be Funky – Shan is joined on the mic by his lady, Terri (who also graces the album cover, along with their son, Lil’ Shan aka Do-Do.), and the lovebirds take turns trying to out rap each other over a smooth beat and slim-thick bass line. Much respect to Shan for letting his Queen get a little shine time, but she shouldn’t be rappin’; and even though the instrumental was pleasant, this song shouldn’t exist.

Mic Line – Shan’s back on his emcee shit with this one, as he spits adequate battle bars. The rhymes would have shined brighter over a stronger instrumental and without the corny hook.

How I Feel About You – Shan closes the album with a dark instrumental that finds our host questioning the skeptical behavior of his lady, and things come to a climactic ending on the final verse. This was mildly enjoyable.

Play It Again, Shan sounds like our host was making a last-ditch attempt at obtaining some form of commercial success. Shan throws caution to the wind and dabbles with rock, country, techno, house, go-go, pop; hell, he even tries to sing on a record. Shan was still a competent emcee in 1990, and delivers some decent bars on PIAS, but all the experimentations result in a lackluster listen that runs a bit too long. PIAS isn’t all bad, as there are a handful of solid records. But within a fifteen song tracklist, those handful of songs quickly get lost in the conflux of mediocrity and cornball, and ultimately, our host’s (wait for it) Shan-nanigans (*rimshot*) do the album in.

-Deedub

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The W.I.S.E. – Guyz – eF yoU eN Kay E (1989)

If you read this blog on a regular basis, then you already know that I’m a vinyl and compact disc collector (I’m not big on cassettes, but I do have the cassette version of Nas’ It Was Written on my want list, only for the brilliant cassette exclusive track, “Silent Murder”. I didn’t heed Nas’ warning and my boombox ate my first cassette copy of it). There are some random and obscure pieces in my collection, but the subject of today’s write up might take the cake. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you The W.I.S.E. Guys: eF yoU eN Kay E.

There’s not much info on the internet about The W.I.S.E Guyz, but I did find out that they were a four-man team, based out of Long Island, NY, consisting of Tron, Big Ill, Stretch and Extra Caliber. The odd album title (which is just a fancy and ridiculous way to say spell F-U-N-K-E or say “funky”) caught my eye, and my curiosity was peaked when I looked at the back of the album cover and discovered that DJ Muffla and Stretch of the underappreciated L.A. Posse, pretty much produced the entire album. And if you’re not familiar with the L.A. Posse, do your Googles, kids.

Without knowing or hearing one song on eF yoU eN Kay E, I copped a used vinyl copy of the album with the thought process that even if The W.I.S.E Guyz are terrible rappers, at least some of the production would enjoyable.

Fingers crossed.

Intro – Our hosts start the album off with an eight second intro that they use to explain the acronym in “The W.I.S.E.” (Tron’s Housing Everything With Ill, Stretch and E, as in Extra Caliber), which is so ridiculous it makes the revised meaning of “J.J. Fad” sound genius.

Kick It Off – The first song of the night is backed by a slow-moving instrumental that Stretch and one other member of the crew (sorry, I don’t recognize the guyz’s voices well enough to decipher who is who) use to spit verses to warm things up for the evening. The verses were cool, and despite the low energy in Muffla and E’s backdrop, I enjoyed the muddled melodic feel of it.

Boom Bash – Muffla and Stretch’s backdrop sounds like a poor man’s Bomb Squad production. It makes for decent imitation, but none of the guys have a strong enough voice to compliment or combat its aggressive hard-hitting nature.

Do The Egyptian – The W.I.S.E. Guys attempt to create a new dance craze with this one. Yep, you guessed it. The Egyptian. Needless to say, the dance didn’t take off, and everything about this track is as corny as it reads.

If My Pillow Could Talk – The guyz put a twist on Connie Francis’ 1963 hit single of the same name. Muffla hooks up a jazzy piano interpolation of the bass line from James Brown’s “The Payback”, and the fellas use it to take turns discussing their sexual exploits and fantasies. The concept sounds more interesting written than it does executed, but I did enjoy Muffla’s instrumental.

New York, New York – The W.I.S.E. Guyz wrap-up side one of FUNKE with this homage to their hometown. Then again, I don’t know if “homage” is the right term, since they mostly talk about the negative aspects of the city and punctuate it all with the hook that advertises New York as the city where the “roaches bite and your rats run around, your house gets robbed, and you don’t hear a sound”. Wow. Sounds like a great place to live. I didn’t care much for this one, mainly due to the flat instrumental.

The eF yoU eN Kay E – The W.I.S.E Guyz kick-off side two of the album (if you’re listening on vinyl) with the title track and a bangin’ backdrop (credited to Muffla and E) that the whole team gets a chance to rhyme on. No one spits anything memorable, but this instrumental is tough.

Let’s Rock The House – Like most hip-hop albums from this time period, The W.I.S.E. Guyz felt the need to include a house track. Stretch lays the beat and the fellas add a few adlibs to it. Next…

Time For Peace – The fellas use this one to call for world peace. Specifically, peace between the two super-powers: USA and Russia, as to avoid World War III. I appreciate the sentiment, but the bars were boring, and it was musically mundane.

Fools – Short interlude.

Watt U Got 2 Say – Trash.

This House Is Smokin’ – Stretch loops up a portion of BT Express’ song of the same title, but the loop doesn’t hit as hard as it did on 3rd Bass’ “Triple Stage Darkness”, which is proof that sampling is an art. I wouldn’t necessarily call this one trash, but it’s definitely recycling bin material.

I won’t call The W.I.S.E. Guyz terrible rappers, as they deliver a few decent bars on eF yoU eN Kay E, but they never establish a true identity or direction, and collectively, struggle to carry the vocal weight required for an entire album. On the production side, Muffla and Stretch manage to muster up a couple of dope instrumentals, but much like the rhymes, most of the musical backings are underwhelming and forgettable. As a whole body of work, eF yoU eN Kay E is not funky, but most of it stinks.

-Deedub

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Wrecks-N-Effect – Wrecks-N-Effect (September 1, 1989)

After their underwhelming and very forgettable self-titled debut EP (read my thoughts on it right here), Wreckx-N-Effect went through significant changes. They cut ties with Atlantic after the EP was poorly received, and they would also lose the lead emcee and voice of the group, Keith K.C., who left shortly after the EP was released. But the three remaining Harlem homeboys wouldn’t be down for long, as they would quickly land a new deal with Motown, releasing their self-titled debut full-length album in the fall of 1989.

With Keith K.C. gone, Aqil would be promoted to chief emcee and the new voice of WNE, handling most of the rhyming on the album. They would keep the production in house, with Markell at the helm, receiving additional help from David Guppy (and even though he is not credited, I’m sure Teddy Riley had a hand in producing the album as well). The album didn’t earn WNE any RIAA certifications, but the lead single did make some noise, setting them up for their platinum selling follow-up, Hard Or Smooth, which undoubtedly earned its platinum certification due to the inclusion of their smash hit single, “Rump Shaker” (a song that Teddy Riley rightfully received a producer’s credit on).

Would Aqil come of age and be able to hold his own on this album? And if he did, would Markell and company be able to provide quality production to back him? Stay tuned…

New Jack Swing – The album starts with easily the second biggest hit in WNE’s shallow catalog. I don’t care what the liner notes say, Teddy Riley definitely produced this one. I mean, how could he not? He fathered the style the song celebrates. TR makes sure to “humbly” let the listener know the impressive list of artists that he’s blessed with his New Jack production sound at the beginning of his verse, which is sandwiched in between two Aqil verses. Speaking of Aqil, his voice matured since their debut EP. He’s not a great lyricist, but he does get off a few clever lines on this one (my favorite is “Watchin’ all the girls just pumpin’ like hotties/they had parts that looked better than Ferraris”). This is a dope little bop that has aged well.

Leave The Mike Smokin’ – Over a decent upbeat backdrop, Aqil goes dolo, trying his damnedest to set the mic on fire with hot bars. Unfortunately, he doesn’t cause even the tiniest flickering of a spark to come out of the microphone, but the instrumental was partially entertaining.

Juicy – Five years before Puffy and ’em would loop up Mtume’s classic record of the same name for Biggie’s joint that is damn near now hip-hop’s National Anthem, Markell would use the sample for the backbone to this love song. Aqil puts on his romantic voice as he thirsts after a cutie named Juicy with “nice legs and a big booty” that’s got him wide open (This line made me chuckle: “She dope, doper on a rope, yo, lookin at her body’s like going down a slope”). Aqil’s shallow content serves as proof that this is more of a lust song than a love song, but it still makes for a decent listen.

Club Head – David Guppy and WNE hook up a banger that Aqil dedicates to all those people who live for the club scene (his line about making the club head chick a club sandwich to get the panties was corny and clever at the same time). Aqil sounds solid on this one, but the true star of this record is the instrumental. The drums on this one are sick! Go ahead, give it a listen.

Soul Man – After the high energy from the previous song, WNE slows things down a bit with a somberly soulful backdrop that an almost sedated Aqil uses to casually talk his shit over, warning would be competitors that he’s “A new jack of rap, but yo, I’m not havin’ it, so don’t step to Aqil with that battle shit”. This is easily one of my favorites on the album.

Deep – Aqil kicks one quick verse, calling for peace and an end to the senseless violence in the black community. The instrumental sounds like a slightly slower jazzier version of “New Jack Swing”, but I still enjoyed it.

Wipe Your Sweat – Besides the dope horn break in between the verses, everything about this was mediocre.

V-Man – The opening and closing chords on this one sound a lot like portions of Guy’s classic quiet storm joint “Tease Me Tonite” (you remember, the joint on The Future album that Aaron Hall pre-ejaculate’s on at the beginning of the song, only to regain his stamina and bust another nut for the final thirty seconds of the record), which serves as more proof to my theory that TR had more to do with the production on this album than WNE credits him for, but I digress. After the somber chords evaporate into thin air, a funky Hamilton Bohannon loop comes in (you’ll probably recognize it as the musical backbone for Jay-Z’s “Cashmere Thoughts”) and Aqil raps about his homie, V-Man, who, unfortunately, was murdered. The content was heavy, but heartfelt, and I enjoyed the instrumental.

Peanut Butter – I wasn’t impressed with Aqil’s bars, but this instrumental is hard.

Friends To The End – WNE invites Redhead Kingpin and Scoop Rock to join Aqil on this one, as the three take turns spewing forgettable raps over a backdrop built around an interpolation of the bass line from the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”. This wasn’t terrible, but not worth listening to more than once, either.

Rock Steady – The final song of the evening finds a focused Aqil talkin’ more shit over a dope upbeat jazz-tinged backdrop. The horns on the break sound sexy as hell, and this makes for a solid ending to the album.

Oh, what a difference a year makes. The once “barely out of puberty” voiced Aqil that we were first introduced to on the EP, quickly blossomed into a solid baritone that leads the team on Wreckx-N-Effect’s first full-length album. Aqil’s not a superb lyricist, but he’s decent on the mic and a vast improvement from the overly excited Keith K.C. who dominated their six song EP. Markell and Mr. Guppy back Aqil’s rhymes with a few stellar soundscapes, but the bulk of their production falls somewhere in between solid to decent, with none of them falling into the “trash” category. The album doesn’t have any real cohesion and sounds like they just put eleven individual songs together to fill out an album, but I still found most of it is moderately enjoyable, to the point that I’d drop a few bucks to check out their last two project as well.

-Deedub

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Wrecks-N-Effect – EP (1988)

To the casual hip-hop fan, Wreckx-N-Effect will always be synonymous with their 1992 smash hit single, “Rump Shaker”. And if you’re a little more seasoned hip-hop head, you might remember they had earlier success a few years prior to “Rump Shaker” with a bop called “New Jack Swing” from their self-titled debut album. But I’d be willing to bet that very few of you knew that Wreckx-N-Effect had a self-titled EP a year prior to their debut full-length album. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t. I didn’t know it existed either, until a few months ago when I stumbled across a used vinyl copy at one of the record stores that I frequent.

Wreckx-N-Effect (they originally spelled the group name Wrecks-N-Effect, but later changed it before releasing their second full-length album, Hard Or Smooth in 1992) was comprised of the three childhood friends: Aqil Davidson, Markell Riley (Teddy Riley’s younger brother) and Brandon Mitchell (rip), who all grew up together in Harlem. After witnessing Teddy Riley start to become a legitimate producer in the industry, the threesome decided that they also wanted to get into the music game. They formed Wreckx-N-Effect, and with Teddy’s help were able to get a deal with Atlantic Records, releasing their debut self-titled EP in 1988.

The EP’s credits only list Markell Riley and David Guppy as producers on the project, with Teddy Riley credited as a musician on all five of the EP’s songs, but I’m sure he had more input on the project than just playing what he was told to play. Legend has it that Teddy Riley thought it would be a good idea to add Keith K.C. Harris to WNE, as he felt he had great vocal presence and prior recording experience that would help the teenaged threesome. The EP would make very little noise, and Keith K.C. would leave the group after the project.

I haven’t listened to the EP since I bought it a few months ago. I’ve never been a huge Wreckx-N-Effect fan, but the hip-hop history buff in me had to buy it and see if there were any hidden gems on it waiting for me to discover, but I honestly don’t have any expectations going into this.

Go For What U Know – WNE starts off the EP with an aggressive but average at best instrumental that finds a very energetic Keith K.C. talkin’ his shit. I like K.C.’s energy, but unfortunately, his flow and content aren’t as entertaining.

Mafia – The song title might lead you to believe this is some gangsta shit, but it’s not. It’s just another average instrumental with a hyped up K.C. spitting forgettable bars over it.

Wrecks-N-Effect – Markell and company lay down a hard backdrop for K.C. to big up his crew and talk more shit. Once again, K.C. sounds pretty mediocre on the mic, but this instrumental is a banger.

I Need Money – Aqil makes his only appearance of the evening, as he uses this one to stress his need to obtain the almighty dollar, while Keith K.C. plays his hypeman. “C.R.E.A.M.” this is not. The instrumental was trash and Aqil was clearly not ready to carry the weight as a lead man on the mic.

Let’s Do It Again – Markell and ’em loop up The Staple Singers’ classic of the same name for this one. K.C. uses it to celebrate reuniting with a former lover, as the two attempt to rekindle their old flame. K.C.’s rhymes come off borderline corny, but it’s hard not to find yourself groovin’ to the soulful sounds of Curtis Mayfield’s music playing underneath Keith’s contrived romantic bars.

Wrecks-N-Effect (Instrumental Version) – Wisely, WNE brings back the instrumental without any distractions, so the listener can enjoy it uninterrupted for the marvelous monster that it is.

Except for the “Wrecks-N-Effect” instrumental, Wreckx-N-Effect doesn’t give us much to remember on their debut EP. Bringing in Keith K.C. backfires and proves that “vocal presence” alone doesn’t make you a dope emcee; but after listening to Aqil rhyme in his puny teenage voice on his sole appearance on the EP (see “I Need Money”), I can see why Teddy felt they needed reinforcements on the mic. Speaking of reinforcements, WNE could have also used some help on the boards, as most of the instrumentals are averagely plain and easily forgettable, which pretty much sums up this project in a nutshell.

It’s easy to avoid disappointment when you don’t have any expectations.

-Deedub

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King Tee – Act A Fool (November 15, 1988)

I mentioned during my write-up of King Tee’s fourth release, IV Life, that I was so impressed by the album that I would track down physical copies of the rest of his catalog. Well, during the quarantine I was able to track down two more of his albums: his third release, Tha Triflin’ Album (that we’ll be digging into in the very near future), and his debut album, the subject of today’s post, Act A Fool.

Born Roger McBride, King Tee got his start in the game as a deejay after crossing paths with DJ Pooh and DJ Bobcat, who at the time were part of the West Coast-based funk/electro/hip-hop collective, Uncle Jamm’s Army (Ice-T and Egyptian Lover were also a part of this crew). According to King Tee, there were too many deejays in the crew, so he started focusing more on the rhymes than the turntables. Over time he honed his emcees skills and would end up getting a deal with Capitol Records, where he would release his debut album, Act A Fool, at the tail end of 1988.

Act A Fool would begin King Tee’s tradition of including classic whips on his album covers, as this one features our host staggering past a clean white Caddy with shotgun in hand, while a group of sippin’ and chillin’ brothers, casually watch (If you own a digital copy of Act A Fool, you won’t be able to get the full scope of the artwork, as you actually have to open the liner notes booklet to get the full picture and see the classic Caddy in all of its splendor. Another reason I still buy vinyl and CD’s). King Tee would call on his old buddy, DJ Pooh to produce the entirety of the album (except for the two interludes, which are credited to King Tee), and while it wasn’t a commercial success, Act A Fool would produce a couple of singles that made a little noise on the Hip-hop Charts, but more importantly, the streets gave it two thumbs up.

This is my first time listening to Act A Fool, so hopefully it sounds as entertaining as the album’s title and cover artwork.

Act A Fool – Our host starts off the evening sharing a night in the life of King Tee running around in the streets of Compton, and in true King Tee fashion, he keeps it lighthearted and comical. Pooh builds the dope backdrop around a rock-tinged guitar loop that sounds great underneath Tee’s bars.

Ko Rock Stuff – Pooh spits a rare verse, as he opens this one up boasting about how dope his beats are. King Tee concurs and uses the rest of the song to shoutout his homie and brags of his own lyrical dopeness over a funky backdrop. Well done, guys.

The Coolest – King Tee’s in straight emcee mode, spitting well-crafted metaphors and confidently boasting of his lyrical prowess over a funky Pooh produced bop. It sounds like Tee takes a shot at LL during his opening bars (“Fresh like a virgin, calculates like a math whiz, you think you’re bad, Imma show you what bad is”), which makes sense, considering he was down with Ice-T, who openly had beef with Cool James. This record is fire!

Flirt – Our host uses this one to brag about his gift to gab and his ability to have his way with the ladies. Pooh interrupts his partner on the song’s last verse to argue that he’s a bigger ladies’ man than our host, but Tee quickly shuts him down, as he continues to “matter of factly” explain his player techniques. Tee’s rhymes were cool, but Pooh’s bare boned instrumental is too dry to keep me interested.

Baggin’ On Moms – King Tee and his boys use this two-minute interlude to carry on the hood tradition of crackin’ “yo momma” jokes. I chuckle every time I listen to this one. The jokes are funny, but the delivery of the punchlines makes them hi-larious, even when they mess up the punchline.

Bass (Remix) – King Tee uses this one to celebrate the bass line, tell us why he bought his gold chain and an assortment of other randomness. Pooh provides a slick instrumental, complete with smooth horn breaks, while King Tee’s deejay, Keith Cooley gets a chance to cut some shit up on the one’s and two’s. This remix only makes a few minor alterations to the original version. This record was a great choice for a single and it has aged well.

Let’s Dance – More quality bars from our host over a solid mid-tempo Pooh production that’s sole intention is to get the listener to dance. For some reason, King Tee’s flow on this one kind of reminds me of Special Ed (the rapper, not SPED). Wait…did he just threaten to shit on someone’s face?

Guitar Playin’ – The instrumental is simple, but decent, as are King Tee’s rhymes.

Payback’s A Mutha – This one finds King Tee playing fake mad and in faux revenge mode, only to match the James Brown loops the instrumental is built around. Even with our host’s contrived energy, I still enjoyed this one.

Just Clowning – Our host invites MC Breeze (not to be confused with the late MC Breed from Detroit) and Mixmaster Spade to join him, as they take turns spittin’ playful bars over Pooh’s Parliament funk-injected instrumental. I guess they all can’t be great.

I Got A Cold – King Tee ends Act A Fool doing just what the album title suggest: this interlude features our host (or is that Pooh?) beatboxing around his own coughing, sneezing and hacking. And that’s a wrap.

I’ve always scratched my head when people try to put King Tee in the gangsta rap category. Yes, he came up in Compton (which is the home to several gangsta rap artists) and ran with Ice-T (a pioneering gangsta rapper), but there is nothing remotely “gangsta” about King Tee’s music (or at least there’s nothing gangsta about the two King Tee albums I’ve listened to thus far). Clearly, the people who try to place him in that box, paraphrasing Jay-Z, don’t listen to music, they just skim through it (or badly misinterpret album covers). If you actually listen to Act A Fool, you’ll discover that King Tee is a competent emcee who clowns a little but is more focused on showcasing his lyrical prowess than slangin’ and bangin’ on wax. DJ Pooh compliments King Tee’s witty bars and lighthearted content on Act A Fool with dope soul and funk sample-laden production that entertains just as much as King Tee’s rhymes, for the most part. Act A Fool is a quality listen that has aged well and lives up to its title and album cover.

-Deedub

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