Jamal – Last Chance, No Breaks (October 10, 1995)

After releasing their very disappointing album, The Untold Truth (you can read my review on that album right here), Illegal members, Jamal and Malik, amicably, decided to go their separate ways and pursue solo careers. Both parties would stay with Rowdy (the same label that brought us The Untold Truth) after the break up, with Malik releasing the single “Malik Goes On”: a song I’ve never heard and apparently didn’t make enough noise for Rowdy to feel the need to follow it up with a full-length album. Malik would eventually leave Rowdy and join his cousin Snoop (is it just me or does it seem like half the hip-hop world is related to Snoop in some form or fashion?) on Death Row, where he would join the long list of rappers to sign to the label, record an album that would eternally be shelved and forever dwell in hip-hop’s black whole. Jamal’s solo’s career would fair somewhat better, as he would become a member of Erick Sermon’s Def Squad and release his solo debut album, Last Chance, No Breaks on Rowdy in the fall of ’95.

Naturally, Jamal would call on his Def Squad bredrin (Erick Sermon, Redman and Def Squad affiliate, Rockwilder) to contribute instrumentals for LCNB, but he would also get some production help from Easy Mo Bee, Mike Dean and a few lesser known beatsmiths  (curiously, his mentor, Dallas Austin gets an executive producer credit, but doesn’t directly produce any songs on the album). LCNB would produce a couple of charting singles, but the album didn’t sell well and it received average to dismal reviews from critics.

Although Jamal’s performance on The Untold Truth was very forgettable, he actually sounded decent during his cameo on Junior M.A.F.I.A’s “Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A.” from their debut album. So when I found LCNB for a few bucks at one of my spots a few years back, I figured I’d check it out and see if Mally G would continue his upward trend. That and the fact I liked one of the singles from the album. I’ve never listened to LCNB before today and I’m only familiar with two of the eleven tracks, but hopefully this fairs better than The Untold Truth did.

Live Illegal – Jamal kicks off the evening with a laid back Easy Mo Bee backdrop that he uses to boast and talk his tough guy shit, while low-key shouting out his old group on the hook (that uses a vocal snippet from Havoc of Mobb Deep), or at least the group’s name. Mally G’s rhyming has definitely improved since his Illegal days, but he’s still light years away from being anywhere near a top-tier emcee. The instrumental, while pleasant, is a little low on energy for an album opening track, but overall, this wasn’t bad.

Keep It Live – Jamal uses this one to share his bio, as he walks us through his days as a snot-nosed trouble magnet in Philly to meeting Left Eye of TLC and moving to Atlanta to pursue his dreams as an emcee. Someone going by PME, breaks Jamal off with a smooth soulful instrumental that sounds way more impressive than our host’s rhymes and terrible hook.

Situation – Mally G gets into his storytelling bag on this one, as he details a night out on the town with his crew that quickly ends with one person dead and another wounded. Surprisingly, Jamal’s story kept me intrigued throughout, as his rhymes paint a vivid visual of the violent events of that evening. Erick Sermon’s cloudy-soulful instrumental (complete with a sick rumbling bass line) sounds great coupled with Jamal’s thug tale.

Insane Creation – Our host invites his fellow Def Squad bredrin, Redman to join him on this duet, as the duo play hot potato with the mic. Both emcees turn in serviceable performances, but Easy Mo Bee’s instrumental makes watching paint dry sound exciting.

Fades Em All – Apparently, this was the first single from LCNB, but I’ve never heard it before now. Redman and Rockwilder construct a relaxing backdrop dripping with warm vibes that Jamal uses to talk big shit and tries his best to impress with boastful bars. His performance is middling at best, and even though I like the instrumental, it doesn’t match Jamal’s energy. FYI: The Pete Rock remix for this song is fire!

The Game – The song begins with a short skit that has two men making, what appears to be, an illegal transaction, then you hear gunshots ring out. Then Redman’s melodically creamy laid back instrumental comes in and Jamal spits a tale about a dude named Spin that’s full of murder, bitches, money and drugs. Much like “Fades Em All”, the instrumental is too relaxed for Jamal’s unoriginal and uninteresting hood narrative.

Da Come Up – Apparently this is the sequel to “The Game”, as the Spin character returns for another unimpressive thug tale from Jamal. Mike Dean’s backdrop was decent, though.

Don’t Trust No – Jamal doesn’t cover any new territory on this one, as he uses his verses to spew immature misogyny. But Mike Dean’s southern synthy groove is dope. I would love to hear Scarface spit something over it.

Keep It Real – This was LCNB‘s second single and one of the two songs I was familiar with going into this write-up. The Green-eyed Bandit loops a piano chord from Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon In The Sky” and turns it into a beautiful backdrop for Jamal to…keep it real. Jamal spits possibly the most ridiculous bar of all time on his second verse: “I stick my dick in the ground, then I turn the whole world around…and blow the sun up!” Wtf? Corny lyrics and generic song title aside (there were no less than a million rap songs with the same title by 1995), I absolutely love Erick Sermon’s somber instrumental.

Genetic For Terror – Jamal invites Keith Murray and L.O.D. (made up of 50 Grand and Kel-Vicious) to join him on this cipher session, and all four emcees turn in at least, decent performances with Mr. Murray inflicting the most damage (I love his line about “lockin’ up with rappers, Roman-Greco wrestling style”). Redman sets the mood, building the backdrop around a spooky bass line from The Jackson 5’s “Boogie Man” that ends up being the perfect canvas for the foursome to rhyme over. I like this one.

Unfuckwittable – This was the other song I was familiar with before this write-up, only because it was on the B-side of the “Keep It Real” single that I boosted from Musicland (or Sam Goody) back in the day to rap over the instrumental. Someone going by the alias of Erotic D (which sounds like a great porn name) hooks up a chilled-out deep funk groove for Jamal to introduce the world to Passion. Passion takes the first two verses and she completely murders the track and Jamal on his own shit. Jamal adds the third verse, but he would have fared better sitting this one out and letting his guest shine solo. I wonder what happened to Passion. I know she made a few more impressive cameos on some Erick Sermon records, but then she seemingly, disappeared (Wikipedia list this Passion as the same Oakland-based Passion who signed to MCA and released an album back in ’96, but I can’t and won’t believe they are the same person. If you have any info on this, feel free to hit me in the comments). Funk legend, George Clinton stops by to sprinkle some adlibs over the groove, but Passion is the true star of this one. And what a great song title.

On Last Chance, No Breaks, Jamal proves that his rhyming skills have definitely improved since his Illegal days, but he’s still only an average emcee on his best day. Overall, the album’s production is decent, but the subdued vibe (which I kind of enjoyed) that most of the instrumentals conjure up, contradict Mally G’s hyper-thug energy. But ultimately, Jamal’s lackluster content and underwhelming song ideas (and godawful hooks) aren’t strong enough to carry the weight for an entire album.

-Deedub

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KRS-One – KRS-One (October 10, 1995)

After 1992’s Sex And Violence, KRS-One decided it was time to call it quits for the legendary BDP crew and officially went dolo, releasing his first solo album, Return Of The Boom Bap in ’93. The album found KRS-One, for the first time in his career, relinquishing most of the production duties to outside help, calling on the likes of Premo and Showbiz to cultivate the album’s sound, and it would go on to be a critical darling, adored by fans as well. The Blastmaster would return in ’95 with his self-titled sophomore solo effort, KRS-One.

The album was originally going to be called Hip-Hop Vs Rap, as that is the title that appeared in the early magazine reviews of the album (i.e. The Source and Rap Pages). According to those reviews and the album’s liners notes, some of the songs that were going to appear on the album got cut at the last minute (in the liner notes KRS-One shouts out “Producers who worked on the album but whose work did not appear”, which includes work from his brother, Kenny Parker, Kid Capri and Pete Rock). Like ROTBB, Kris would use a production by committee strategy for KRS-One, which ended up peaking at number 19 on the US Billboard 200 and number 2 on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

In between songs, KRS-One features a slew of people stopping by to give the Teacher a shout out and show him love: From pioneers like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore, to former foes (MC Shan), to top tier emcees (Rakim and Method Man…You can add another tally mark to his ’95 cameo list), to radio deejays around the globe; even MC Hammer drops him a line. I won’t list all of the interludes and guests in this write-up (Kris does provide a complete list of guests in the album’s liner notes), but just know that KRS-One is loved and respected by all. And he’s still making music to this day.

Rappaz R. N. Dainja – Kris kicks off KRS-One on some true emcee shit: boasting about his greatness and dropping jewels over some hard Premo boom bap (with a dope O.C. vocal snippet on the hook): “Any emcee can battle for glory, but to drop a dope rhyme to wake up your people’s another story, act like you never saw me, cause when it comes to lyrics I’m in a different category”. This was a great way to kick off the show, and a reminder why the Blastmaster is one of the greatest to ever do it.

De Automatic – Big French provides our host with a monster track that sounds like he’s taking the listener on a nighttime flight through the hood, while KRS-One spits with the hunger of a new rapper trying to get his foot in the door: “When you was home witcha mother afraid of the dark, I was sleepin’ out in Prospect Park, eating one meal every 48 hours, writin’ dope rhyme styles that you now devour, don’t you realize that I’m all about survival, I got only friends cause I killed all my rivals”. Fat Joe comes in at the end to show love to KRS-One, BDP and the South Bronx, completing this underrated (or just forgotten) record in our host’s impressive catalog.

MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know – Premo gets his second production credit of the evening, and it’s another mid-tempo banger that Kris demolishes with ease (I literally laugh every time I hear him say “Let me show ya whose ass is the blackest”). This completes a stellar three song combo to start the album.

Ah-Yeah – KRS-One gets in his militant bag on this one, as he takes the crowns off devils, celebrates the death of Richard Nixon, denounces voting (I wonder what his stance is on that today) and goes through his impressive list of reincarnations. I agree with some of Kris’ theology, but his droopy instrumental makes his content hard to digest on this one.

R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. – KRS-One turns “reality” into a ridiculous acronym (Rhymes Equal Actual Life, In The Youth), argues that “reality ain’t always the truth” on the hook, then spends three verses explaining what he meant on the hook. Even if you don’t agree with all of Kris’ content (like myself), you have to respect the man for giving us something conscious to chew on. Norty Cotto’s subpar instrumental wasn’t easy to digest, though.

Free Mumia – Kris is joined by his apprentices, Channel Live on this one, as the trio call out C Dolores Tucker, Jesse Jackson, Rush Limbaugh, Tipper Gore, Colin Powell, Bob Dole and anybody else who opposes hip-hop. The song title and hook (which references the activist/journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia cop back in 1981 and is still serving a life sentence without parole) really have nothing to do with the song’s content, but it still sounds dope.

Hold – Kris gets into his storytelling bag on this one, as he spins a tale about the thin line between wants and needs and the peril that can come with chasing your wants haphazardly. It’s kind of like “Love’s Gonna Get’cha” Part 2. KRS-One’s instrumental used to sound super cheesy to me, but now it actually sounds solid behind his story. Fine wine.

Wannabemceez – If you’re listening to KRS-One on cassette, this kicks of side two of the album…and you’re older than dirt. Premo provides one last boom-bap masterpiece for Kris to flex is superior lyricism, as he continues to destroy inferior emcees and he sounds like he’s having a ball during the process. By the way, to tell a rapper to rewrite his whole album is crazy disrespectful and funny as hell. Mad Lion drops by at the end of the song to add some unnecessary (and almost unintelligible) babble, but he can’t derail the excellence that this song is.

Represent The Real Hip-Hop – This is the exact same song that appeared on Das EFX’s Hold It Down. The only difference is KRS-One decided to add “Hip-Hop” to the end of the song title. I still don’t like it.

The Truth – The Teacher poses some interesting questions about religion and leaves the listener with a lot of food for thought to chew on with this one. Unfortunately, his instrumental is trash. And why the hell did Rich Nice find it necessary to interrupt the session to spew that nonsense at the end of the song?

Build Ya Skillz – Diamond D hooks up a ruggedly dark backdrop with a trunk rattling bass line, while Busta Rhymes stops by to play Kris’ hypeman, sprinkling his magnetic energy over the track. KRS-One uses this one to lyrically pummel rappers and in between verses encourages them to sharpen their skills (“Rappers talk too much shit, but can’t back it up with lyrics, build your skills!!”). I completely forgot about this song, but it was a pleasant rediscovery.

Out For Fame – This is KRS-One’s ode to the most underappreciated element of hip-hop: graffiti. Our host constructs a gritty streetwise backdrop to share some of the art form’s history, shout out a few of New York’s legendary graffiti artists and gives a great explanation on why graffiti gets no respect: “There used to be a time when rap music was illegal, the cops would come and break up every party when they see you, but now that rap music’s making money for the corporate, it’s acceptable to flaunt it, now everybody’s on it, graffiti isn’t corporate so it gets no respect, hasn’t made a billion dollars for some corporation yet”. I definitely appreciate this song now more than I did back in ’95.

Squash All Beef – Diamond D gets his second and final production credit of the evening with this one, building the brilliant backdrop around a Crusaders loop that makes for a warm soulful canvas (I love the thick and delicious bass line). Kris uses it to denounce beef and promote unity in hip-hop and the black community: “All beef can be squashed if you want it, but instead of forgiveness, ego you flaunt it, everybody gets into two or three quarrels, leading to a squabble, someone will die tomorrow”. He (and Sadat X) cleverly quote Kool Moe Dee’s closing bar from “Self Destruction” at the end of the first two verses (“I never ran from the Klu Klux Klan, and I shouldn’t have to run from a black man”). This song was released just as the East Coast/West Coast feud begin to heat up. If only both sides would have taken heed to the message in this gem of a song.

Health, Wealth, Self – To close out KRS-One, Kris declares all he needs in this life are the three planes listed in the song title, and he generously offers up five lessons about emcee longevity in one long verse. His self-produced laid back semi-soulful instrumental works as the perfect companion piece for the Teacher’s sage like wisdom. This is one of my favorite joints on the album and a great way to close the show.

In the mist of all the gangsta posturing and material worshipping that started to consume hip-hop in the mid-nineties, albums like KRS-One are refreshing to hear. The Blastmaster puts on his teacher hat to drop jewels and lessons when he’s not thrashing lesser emcees and reminding them all that he’s one of the best to ever do it. A few of the instrumentals are questionable and like all KRS-One albums, some of Kris’ metaphysical and spiritual/religious philosophies can be a bit too much to digest, but overall KRS-One is a quality album from an emcee who’s worthy of a seat at the top ten table.

-Deedub

 

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AZ – Doe Or Die (October 10, 1995)

 

On Illmatic’s “Life’s A Bitch”, a young unknown high-pitched raspy-voiced emcee named AZ made arguably the greatest debut cameo appearance in hip-hop history, matching the soon to be god emcee, Nas, bar for bar. His swift flow and stellar vocabulary left hip-hop heads mesmerized and anticipating more from the Brooklyn native. It would only be a matter of time before the Record labels would come knocking on his door, and AZ would eventually sign to EMI, where he would release his debut album, Doe Or Die.

AZ would use a few of the same producers Nas used to craft the sound of Illmatic (Pete Rock and L.E.S.) and he would call on a few other beatmakers to contribute to Doe Or Die’s production. The album experienced some commercial success, peaking at number 15 on the Billboard Top 200 and number 1 on the Top US R&B/Hip-Hop charts, with the lead single, “Sugar Hill” earning AZ a gold plaque. Doe Or Die also received critical acclaim, receiving positive reviews from the critics and love from the streets.

Even with AZ receiving critical acclaim and experiencing his own level of success with Doe Or Die, he never seemed to be able to get out of the shadow of Nas’ wings. Over the years, AZ has released a slew of respectable album and built a cult-like following, but never experienced the commercial success or super stardom that some of his less talented peers would.

Intro – AZ returns Nas’ invite from Illmatic, as he joins him on this intro, but this is no “Genesis”, folks. Nas does a horrible job trying to sound like a Sicilian Mafia boss, as he and Sosa chop it up, before our host goes into a yawn-provoking spoken word piece over a bunch of noise that is the audio equivalent of the Chinese water torture technique.

Uncut Raw – AZ picks up where he left off at on “Life’s A Bitch”, delivering high energy well-articulated bars with his quality flow and delivery: “This is as, pure as opium, purified for street players to open ’em, Space like three L’s laced with coke in ’em, shots awoken ’em, fake uniform Jakes approach ’em, six trips to young clicks and killers coachin ’em”. The Loose produced instrumental (with a co-production credit going to AZ) works as the perfect accomplish to AZ’s street paintings, and it lives up to the song title.

Gimme Yours – Pete Rock gets his first production credit of the evening, lacing AZ with a breezy feel good backdrop that our host uses to discuss his never ending pursuit of the mighty dollar. And he also reuses one of the swaggiest words ever used in a hip-hop song: schweppervescence. Nas drops in again, this time to sing the hook and add a few adlibs to this gem of a song that still sounds fresh and amazing after all these years.

Ho Happy Jackie -Buckwild loops up a slick Kool & The Gang sample for AZ to eloquently call out and warn others about the snares of promiscuous Ho Happy Jackie: “So married or single, watch out for Jackie when you jingle, she might sting you and aint no telling what that sting’ll bring you, you could fall off point and get careless, lose all awareness, go hairless, why she wouldn’t care if, you go bankrupt, her lifestyle’s corrupt, so knowledge before you wisdom or understanding is fucked”. This is definitely one of the highlights on Doe Or Die, and one of the greatest “Jezebel” songs in the history of hip-hop.

Rather Unique – Pete Rock gets his second and final production credit of the evening. This time he provides our host with a melodic mid-tempo banger (accompanied by a well-placed Big Daddy Kane vocal snippet on the hook) that AZ completely annihilates, while showing off his vast vocabulary and potent flow. AZ actually got The Source’s once highly sought after Hip-Hop Quotable Column for the second verse in this song. These are the type of bars that leave me wondering why AZ is so underappreciated. This is an unheralded classic.

I Feel For You – Not including the horrendous intro, this is the first real misstep on Doe Or Die. AZ serves up quality bars, but the heavy drums sound like dirty vinyl skipping and the repetitive two chord melody from the female voice (who the liner notes credit to a Erica Scott) quickly becomes annoying and begins to wear on the ears.

Sugar Hill – L.E.S. sticks to his script of flagrantly ripping eighties R&B hits, this time targeting Juicy’s “Sugar Free”. AZ uses it to dream about becoming successful and able to live like his ancestors before him in the historic wealthy African-American neighborhood that the song title references (do your Googles!). Miss Jones (whom we last heard acting like she wanted to put Prince Markie D’s dick in her mouth throughout Love Daddy) pops up to sing a decent but uninspired hook on a song that I’ve never liked, but I completely understand why AZ used it as his debut single.

Mo Money Mo Murder (Homicide) – Nas drops by for a third time (well, fourth if you count the adlibs he added to the end of “Uncut Raw”), but this time he actually spits bars, taking on his Escobar persona to spar with Sosa, as the two exchange Mafioso rhymes over DR Period’s sophisticated backdrop. This duet is nowhere near as potent as the duo’s performance on “Life’s A Bitch”, but its still quality. After the song ends, AZ slips in a short hidden interlude, as he spits a quick gloomy verse over a desolate backdrop that I actually enjoyed…in a depressed kind of way.

Doe Or Die – New Orleans Joe gets an odd production credit on Doe Or Die, as he slides our host one of his signature slow-cooked southern-synth instrumental that sticks out like a sore thump amongst the rest of the East Coast-flavored production we’ve heard to this point. It’s not a terrible song, just not my cup of tea.

We Can’t Win – What a bleak song title. Thankfully, AZ and his guests’ (Amar and another uncredited male voice whose tone sounds very similar to AZ’s, and according to Genius.Com his name is Barsham) content doesn’t sound as hopeless. The trio actually spit the most conscious rhymes on Doe Or Die with this one; and the voice at the beginning and end of the song sounds like the Oswald Bates character from In Living Color. This makes for decent filler material.

Your World Don’t Stop – AZ dedicates this one to all the brothers locked up, as he uses the serious sounding instrumental (which the liner notes say was originally produced by Spunk Biggs, then remixed by Ski aka Ski Beatz) to come from the perspective of a convict whose trying to stay sane and optimistic as he awaits the end of his bid and a return to freedom. Our host proves to be a sufficient storyteller on this solid record.

Sugar Hill (Remix) – Even though it doesn’t sound blatantly pop like the original mix, I still don’t like it. Thirty seconds or so after this remix ends, dirge like piano chords come in. I’m assuming the somber chords symbolize the “Die” option in the album’s title. Regardless, this concludes Doe Or Die.

Even with redundant content and a few underwhelming beat selections, AZ is able to conjure up a quality debut album in Doe Or Die, as he recaptures some of the microphone magic we first heard him display on Illmatic. The album could probably use a two or three song shaving, but as is, it’s still dope. And I’ll resist the obviously strong urge to compare it to Illmatic.

-Deedub

 

 

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Kool G Rap – 4, 5, 6 (September 26, 1995)

With DJ Polo by his side, Kool G Rap released three albums on the Cold Chillin’ imprint between 1989 and 1992. The first two releases (Road To The Riches and Wanted: Dead Or Alive) were respectable albums, while the third (Live And Let Die) was very uneven and easily the weakest out of the three. Even though the duo’s catalog never experienced a lot of commercial success, they were able to develop a cult like following on the underground scene and G Rap would earn his respect as one of the best to ever grip the mic, influencing many of the next classes’ top-tier emcees that came after him. In 1993, G Rap and Polo decided it was time to part ways, as G. Rap would pursue a solo career, releasing his first solo album, 4, 5, 6, in September of 1995.

G Rap would call on Dr. Butcher, T-Ray and Buckwild to sonically sculpt most of 4, 5, 6, which would also be his final release on Cold Chillin’. The album received mixed reviews upon its release, but like most of his catalog before it, the streets and underground embraced it.

I haven’t listened to 4, 5, 6 (whose title is a reference to a combination of winning numbers rolled on dice in a game of cee-lo) in years and most of its fuzzy in my memory bank. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane together and see how this turns out. Shall we?

Intro – The album begins with a skit that has a bunch of dudes partaking in a game of cee-lo, before G Rap shows up to the scene talkin’ big shit and gets involved. This bleeds into the next song…

4, 5, 6 – Dr. Butcher laces G Rap with some dusty boom bap shit that our host uses to share the intricacies of his cee-lo game, and of course, he always walks away the winner. What did you think he would say? He’s a rapper.

It’s A Shame – This was the lead single from 4, 5, 6. G Rap uses this one to list off and brag about the finer things and the lavish lifestyle that drug dealing has afforded him. G Rap’s boastful tone contradicts the guilty mood that Sean Brown’s crooning evokes on the hook, but I’m sure most street pharmacists wrestle with both sides. G Rap’s automatic weapon style flow works well over the smooth but hard backdrop.

Take ‘Em To War – G Rap invites B1 and Grimm (aka MF Grimm) to join him on this posse cut, as the threesome prepare for war and spill their foes’ blood all over the track. Grimm and B1 do a decent job warming things up for G Rap, who comes in on the final verse and completely murders shit (no pun intended): “I’m rainin’ on em’ (faster nigga), on yeah, we’re gainin’ on ’em, (Oh shit, he’s with somebody else) fuck it, put his brain on ’em, boom boom, no survivors, lift the nigga out his seat, when they find ’em, he’ll be a backseat driver, but I ain’t finished with the trigger yet, I’m lightin’ up a cigarette. Bang! Bang! I left another niggas wet”. T-Ray’s instrumental is kind of drab, but the dimness kind of works behind the threesomes’ bleak content.

Executioner Style – Our host continues on with his murder mission, riddling off witty punchlines like a machine gun with his signature lisped vocal that will leave you with laughing cramps: “Cause what I carry’s, much bigger than Dirty Harry’s, do a Hail Mary, I make Bloody Mary’s out of your capillaries, pieces of flesh, hangin’ off a niggas chest, cause the vest that he dressed, couldn’t fuck with the Smith N Wes.”. If you can listen to this song and not laugh at least once at one of G Rap’s hi-larious bars, go to your local Wal-Mart or Target, immediately and buy a sense of humor. I wasn’t crazy about the generic hook or Dr. Butcher’s sleepy instrumental, but G Rap spits his strongest bars of the evening by far on this one.

For Da Brothaz – This is probably my favorite song on 4, 5, 6. T-Ray provides a somber instrumental for G Rap to reminisce over a few of his fallen comrades. The backdrop never gets old and it sounds even better when listened to after hours.

Blowin’ Up In The World – Buckwild gets his first production credit of the evening, looping up Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” (which was a popular loop in the mid-nineties) that our host uses to celebrate his rise from rags to riches. Buckwild’s interpretation of the sample definitely has a happy feel than the ones I’ve heard prior. This was solid.

Fast Life – This was the second single released from 4, 5, 6. Nas drops by to exchange Mafioso raps with G Rap over a breezy Buckwild backdrop that I always assumed was produced by L.E.S, because of the low hanging fruit eighties R&B rip (Surface’s “Happy”), which seemed to be his bag on his early production work (see Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch” or AZ’s “Sugar Hill”). Regardless, this was a solid duet from the two Kings from Queens.

Ghetto Knows – More violent tales from the streets over a serious sounding Naughty Shorts instrumental. It’s not a terrible song, but easily the most skippable one on 4, 5, 6.

It’s A Shame (Da Butcher’s Mix) -Dr. Butcher loops up the same sample Diamond D used for the outro on Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop for this remix. The dusty boom-bap and the absence of Sean Brown’s vocal on the hook definitely give this mix a grittier feel than the O.G. mix.

Money On My Brain – Kool G Rap ends 4, 5, 6 with a bouncy Dr. Butcher produced backdrop, as B1 and Grimm make their second appearance of the evening and get out rapped by their host for a second time on this ode to money. I didn’t care much for this one, but I guess with only ten tracks prior, G Rap felt he had to fill the album out with something.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Kool G Rap is one of the most underappreciated emcees in the history of hip-hop. Even though at times his lisp makes understanding his swiftly-paced rhymes hard to understand, he is upper echelon when it comes to witty wordplay and clever punchlines. On 4, 5, 6 we get glimpses of vintage G Rap from his days with DJ Polo, but much of the album is flooded with Mafioso raps and our host embracing the underworld persona that begin to become prevalent on Live And Let Die. Don’t get it twisted: Mafia G Rap can still rhyme better than most of his contemporaries, and he does a good job of painting vividly violent bars over a solid batch of boom-bap instrumentals. Overall, 4, 5, 6 is a fairly entertaining listen. It’s just hard to see one of the teachers playing the role of the student.

-Deedub

 

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RBX – The RBX Files (September 26, 1995)

The world was first introduced to RBX on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, where he dropped “bombs like Hiroshima” and made several other impressive cameos. After The Chronic and stealing the show from his cousin, Snoop Dogg on Doggystyle’s “Serial Killer” the following year, it seemed that RBX would be the next Death Row artist to blow. But before RBX could release an album on Death Row, he would fall out with Suge Knight and Dr. Dre, which led to his departure from the notorious label. In 1995, RBX would finally release his debut album The RBX Files on the independent label, Premeditated Records with distribution through Warner Brothers.

RBX would call on another former Death Row associate, Gregski, to produce The RBX Files from beginning to end. The album reached number 12 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop charts and 62 on the Billboard Top 200. I personally didn’t even know this album existed until I found it starring back at me in the used CD dollar bin at Cheapos a few years ago. I’m never listened to The RBX Files before today, nor am I familiar with any of the songs on the album. Let’s see how this goes.

Introduction – Over spooky sinister chords, RBX introduces the listener to the album and promises death to anyone who is brave enough to battle him: “Any attempts of battle will be futile…and imbeciles, they’ll all die, yes, die…they shall die”.  RBX has a dope voice that would sound great narrating movies and doing voice over work.

Brother Minister A Samad Muhammad – RBX uses a portion of the minister’s sermon to serve as a double meaning for a spiritual and physical escape from the enemy, which in his case is Death Row Records. This sets up the next song…

A.W.O.L. – The first official song of the evening is a dis record aimed at his former Death Row partner, Dr. Dre, who RBX fell out with sometime after The Chronic album and Doggystyle were recorded: “Dr. Dre, do you remember you was broke, and the whole rap industry thought you was a joke? Me, D.O.C. and D-O-G sat and made, lyrics to replenish your name like Gatorade, but you got thirsty for the money, punk, and disrespected the three that put you back up on it”. RBX lands some decent blows over Gregski’s slow moving funk groove, but never delivers a convincing knockout punch. I love the hook (built around RBX’s most popular Chronic bar: “I drop bombs like Hiroshima”) and the song is decent, but it’s safe to say that you won’t find this on anyone’s Top Ten Dis Record list.

Slip Into Long Beach – RBX and Gregski step the pace up a bit with this one, as RBX invites the listen to “slip into some fucked up shit” as he gets violent on some “catch a body” type shit and represents for his city, Long Beach. And just in case you were confused, RBX reminds you on the first verse “No, this aint Compton and Long Beach together, strictly Long Beach”. RBX’s unorthodox flow almost sounds like a spoken word poem, but it works over the decent instrumental.

The Edge – On this one RBX is just waiting for someone to push him over the edge so he can lace them with bullet holes, or as he says on the hook: “I’m close to the edge, bullets will be zippin’, zappin, bodies collapsin'”. RBX’s bloody bars sound great over Gregski’s hard backdrop.

Rough Is The Texture – RBX continues with his violent verses. This time he’s got his aim on every rapper in South Gate, Watts, Inglewood, South Central and Compton, only showing mercy to MC Eiht. Gregski’s instrumental sounds like a poor man’s Dr. Dre production, but it works behind RBX’s rough and theatrical vocal tone.

Burn – This sounds like some shit Satan would have on his playlist. Our host rides the dark and evil mid-tempo instrumental to perfection.

Our Time Is Now – Gregski loops up a portion of Roy Ayers “We Live In Brooklyn, Baby” for the backdrop, while X continues on with his mass murder spree. RBX has an uncanny ability to rap over any beat and sound super comfortable while doing it.

Feathers In The Wind – More violent themes over a beautiful backdrop. Murder never sounded so poetic.

Rec Dialec Introduction (Interlude) – RBX sounds like he’s narrating for some Medieval Game of Thrones type shit on this one. His grandiose introduction is used to set up the next song…

Tundra – RBX sits this one out and lets his homies hold it down: E’D Ameng, Meticulous Mad 1 and D’Cipher all take part in this chilly rumble in the tundra. None of them spit top-notch bars, but Gregski’s subdued mid-tempo instrumental is tough and the reggae touched hook was dope.

Drama (Interlude) – Our host borrows a clip from the movie Strapped (remember that one?) to set up the next song…

Mom’s Are Cryin’ – Over a slow rumbling bluesy backdrop, RBX spins a few tales that end with a young brother dead and a mom crying over her deceased son. Not one of my favorite songs, but it’s cool.

BMS On The Attack – Over unnerving drums, our host uses one short verse to kill a devil white man, as he continues to eloquently do in a poetic fashion: “Relax, I’m about to take my respect, I lower and aim straight for his fuckin’ neck, Boo-ya! Boo-ya! Then I fade into the wind, hidden by night, reflected by moon, soon comes the wrath of blacks, actually facts…” This wasn’t great, but it was short, so that’s a good thing.

Sounds Of Reality – After spending pretty much all of the first part of RBX Files killing brothers, RBX decides to get conscious with this one. Gregski loops up a familiar Blackbyrds’ loop (see Gang Starr’s “Say Your Prayers” and CMW’s “Def Wish”) that creates a mysterious soundscape for our host. The song opens with voices chanting an old Negro spiritual (taken from the Roots soundtrack), then RBX comes in to shares some Nation of Islam theology and celebrates the black culture. This was cool.

Armageddon (Interlude) – Our host uses another portion of a Brother Minister A. Samad Muhammad sermon for this interlude, as he shares more Nation of Islam teachings and takes a shot at Snoop Dogg’s rap alias. RBX ends the interlude by sharing a conversation he had with a devil Caucasian man about the gang problem. Our host finds a silver lining to the problem, claiming one day the gangbangers will be the frontline soldiers when Armageddon takes place, which according to the Bible is the last battle between good and evil, to which RBX equates as black and white. I aint buying RBX’s philosophy, but it’s a great way to justify all the violence he’s spewed up to this point RBX Files.

Akebulan – The song title, even though it’s spelled incorrectly (see”Alkebulan”), is the oldest name for Africa, which in Arabic means “The land of the blacks”. RBX is joined by Ganjah K, as the two take turns detailing the battle of Armageddon from the front lines and talk about returning to the Motherland, even if it’s only spiritual. Gregski’s backdrop is concurrently somber and hard, which works well behind the song’s content.

Fightin’ The Devil – RBX sounds a lot like Chuck D on this one, as he aggressively attacks the accapella track, buckin’ down devils and droppin’ mathematics.  All that hard and it added absolutely nothing to the album.

No Time – Over a decent instrumental, RBX calls for black unity and for the black community to be prepared for the impending Armageddon war.

Our Time Is Now (Outro) – RBX briefly brings back the “Are Time Is Now” chant from early for this outro.

A.W.O.L. (Gregski Remix) – I didn’t care much for this remix. It sounds way too empty for my liking.

RBX might have the greatest underrated voice in hip-hop. It’s a perfect mixture of Professor X’s dramatics and Chuck D’s raw authoritative tone. He’s kind of the James Earl Jones of hip-hop, which is probably why his other alias is The Narrator. On The RBX Files, The Narrator does a quality job of mastering the ceremony throughout, as his voice and his ability to adapt to any beat and sounds confident while doing so, shines through. RBX’s content gets a bit redundant and early on he comes off bitter over the Death Row fallout, but for the most part he does his thing over a solid batch of Gregski instrumentals. The RBX Files’ is a solid album, but I can’t help but wonder what it would have sounded like under the direction of Dr. Dre.

-Deedub

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Count Bass-D – Pre-Life Crisis (September 26, 1995)

Dwight Conroy Farrell, better known by his alias, Count Bass D (which pays homage to the legendary jazz musician/band leader, Count Basie) is a musician, producer and emcee that most of you have probably never heard of. Then again, some of you may have heard the Bronx born, Ohio-raised emcee spit alongside MF Doom on “Potholderz” from his 2004 release Mm…Food, which Count also produced. I first heard Count Bass D on his cameo on the Grits’ (another group most of you probably aren’t familiar with, but you can read my review of their debut album here while you listen to it on your favorite DSP) “People Noticin’ Me” record from their sophomore effort, Factors Of The Seven. But before the MF Doom and Grits cameos, Count Bass D would sign a deal with the Work Group label (which was also the label home of the London-based acid jazz group Jamiroquai throughout the nineties and the label J-Lo’s debut album, On The 6, was released on), where he would release his debut album Pre-Life Crisis.

Count would be responsible for most of the production on Pre-Life Crisis, as he plays live drums, keys and bass on most of the album and invites a few other musicians to help with a portion of the load. Legend has it that because of Pre-Life Crisis‘ progressive style, the label found it hard to market the album, so it never got a proper promotional push and failed both commercially and critically, which eventually led to the label cutting ties with Count, which is a nice way of saying they dropped his ass. Since then, Count has released several projects independently and built a solid cult following over the past 25 years.

Several years ago, I found a cd copy of Pre-Life Crisis at a Pawn America for a dollar, still in its original packaging. And since I liked the cameos I heard from him previously, I spent my hard earn cash on it. Read along and let’s see if my dollar investment was worthwhile.

The Dozens – Count kicks off the album with a jazzy mid-tempo mash up that he uses to hurl insults at his competition (and himself) and boast of his lyrical prowess in his own unique lighthearted way. If you were born before 1985, you’ll recognize the hook, as it’s built around an old playground chant. Count also pulls from his church upbringing, briefly remixing and singing an old hymn at the end of a verse. This was a great way to start the evening.

Sandwiches (I Got A Feeling) – Apparently, this was the first and only single released from Pre-Life Crisis. Sandwiches is Count’s slang term for promiscuous women, aka hoes: “Speaking on sandwiches kinda fickle, she can be white, or wheat or even pumpernickel, she don’t even walk around being discrete, on the contraire she walks around looking for the meat”. He remixes and sings another old black church hymn for the hook that some might find blasphemous, but I found it comically entertaining. The true star of this one is CBD’s dope groove and the seductive guitar chords from his friend Mark Nash. Dope. Period.

T-Boz (Part 1/2) – A funky bop plays for about thirty seconds, while Count harmonizes over it.

Shake – CBD spits more fun-spirited rhymes over some cool jazzy instrumentation. The airy vocals of Kismick Martin and Vincent Sims on the hook and adlibs was a nice added touch.

T-Boz Tried To Talk To Me – CBD brings back the instrumental from the “T-Boz (Part 1/2)” interlude and shares his story of meeting the raspy-voiced singer from TLC in Atlanta, GA, where he claims she tried to get with him. Apparently his insecurity kept him from responding before the once in a lifetime opportunity passed him by. I laugh every time I hear him dis Jodeci’s former lead man on the second verse: “Rumors ran free, that she loved Jodeci, who gives a fuck about K-Ci? He’s just as skinny as me”. Whether the story is true or not, the hook is hi-larious and the record is entertaining as hell.

Carmex – This is definitely one of my least favorite tracks on Pre-Life Crisis. But the laidback live instrumentation is still enjoyable.

I Got Needs – CBD uses this one to have a heart to heart with his women, as he clearly expresses to her what he needs: “Whether it’s sexual or intellectual, I have needs which are emotional and very personal, you try to play the selfish role to always get what you want, which happens to be control, of my thoughts, of my whereabouts, trying not to pout, I get soft and never go off, but you try to take advantage of the nigga that you want me to be and you describe him to me”. Count builds the hook around a dope Lord Jamar line (whom he shouts out at the end of the song) and the soulful organ chords make the sophisticated instrumental sounds even more amazing.

Broke Thursday – In court jester fashion, Count laments about being broke over a melancholic bluesy backdrop: “Let me tell you what’s triflin’, I got a shirt with my name on the back but I couldn’t afford the hyphen, or the “O” or the “U” or the “A”, I hope you can recognize my name without the vowels, cause “C-N-T-B-S-S-D” is the new way of spelling Count Bass D due to a lack of money, maybe one day I’ll look up and manage money better, because there’s so many times I fuck it up like Chris Webber.” It’s always refreshing to hear an emcee display vulnerability, and it resonates even more when he can rap and the music behind him sounds good.

Agriculture – Count invites his homie Vincent Sims to join him, as the two take turns comparing sex to gardening and cap things off with a hook that has the two asking each other “Did you plant her?” and “Did she bear fruit?”, to which they both reply: “No, it wasn’t in the season.” The hook is massively corny, the rhymes are mildly cheesy (ecspecially Vincent’s) and the instrumental is too pretty and refined for my taste buds. This is definitely my least favorite song on Pre-Life Crisis.

Brown – Our host sounds super confident and spits some of his strongest bars of the evening on this one, proclaiming “I feel better than Tony Toni Tone bustin’ a nut without a rubber on, word is bond, cause I got the clout ya understand? My records out sell a sellout like the Cream of Wheat Man.” But even stronger than his bars is the sick groove he creates to place them on. This is easily my favorite song on Pre-Life Crisis.

The Hate Game – CBD sticks with the mellow smooth jazzy instrumentation and dedicates this one to all his haters. The hook is kind of annoying, but overall, it’s a solid record.

Pink Tornado – The song title is Count’s unique term for big mouthed people whose tongues won’t stop moving. Our host is fed up with people shit talkin’ and backbiting (I laugh every time I hear him say “Your album’s phat, nigga please, rhymin’ aint shit, I play drums, bass and keys.”), so he lets them have it over this pleasingly melodic bop. I like this one, and I love the song title.

Sunday School – This one definitely brought me back to my childhood days as a peasy-headed church boy. Count hooks up a smooth groove and reminisces on the good old innocent days of Sunday School: “Back in the day we use to go to Sunday School, riding the church bus, actin’ a fool, breath smellin’ like milk from that bowl of cereal, our backs are extra itchy from the wool material, tight dress shoes and clip-on ties, you want to smile for pictures but the sun was in your eyes, we buy a bag of sweets before we got to the bus stop, strictly Jolly Ranchers cause you can’t hide Blow Pops, the toughest niggas never had no beef, are tongues were purple and green with Now & Laters stickin’ to our teeth.” My connection to the song’s sentiment might make me a little bias, but I like this one.

Baker’s Dozen – Clever title. CBD ends Pre-Life Crisis by bringing back the instrumental from the opening track.

On “Brown” Count Bass-D makes a very profound statement and asks an interesting rhetorical question in jest: “Niggas out here tryna be 3pac and Spice-2, so what’s an original emcee to do?” Pre-Life Crisis is his rebuttal. Count goes hard against the grain, avoiding all the hardcore Mafioso materialistic rap that begin to flood hip-hop in the mid-nineties and offers a quirky, playful, vulnerable and self-deprecating style, occasionally mixing in some braggadocio shit, just so you don’t mistake his silliness for a wack emcee. Musically, CBD’s musicianship makes for a cohesive batch of cool jazzy-seasoned hip-hop instrumentals with sprinkles of church influence that come together to form feel good vibes. There are a few songs on Pre-Life Crisis that could have been left off, but their inclusion doesn’t disrupt the overall flow of the album. Pre-Life Crisis is a great debut album from Count Bass D that was ahead of its time and unfortunately will probably never get the retro-props it deserves from the masses.

-Deedub

 

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Das EFX – Hold It Down (September 26, 1995)

It’s wild to think that by 1995 Das EFX already had two albums under their belt. After hitting the scene hard in ’92 with their platinum selling debut album, Dead Serious where their unique “iggity” style made quite the impact and produced several copycats, they returned in 1993 with its follow-up, Straight Up Sewaside. Due to heavy criticism from those who felt the “iggity” style was gimmicky and too animated, Das would abandon it on Sewaside and use a more straight forward approach that ultimately resulted in a lackluster album. The duo would return in ’95 with their third release, Hold It Down.

On their first two albums, Das rendered most of the production responsibilities to the production duo, Solid Scheme. While Solid Scheme would produce a few records on Hold It Down, Das would also call on some all-star producers to help carry the load: Premier, Pete Rock, Easy Mo Bee, DJ Clark Kent and Showbiz. Even with the A-lister production help, Hold It Down was a commercial failure and received mediocre reviews. It would also be Das’ last album on the EastWest label.

For some reason I didn’t buy Hold It Down back in the day, and only recognize one of the songs on the track list. I found a used copy a few years back and still haven’t listened to. Until now. Hopefully I won’t agree with the critics’ reviews on this one.

Intro (Once Again) – After nearly thirty seconds of basically silence (I’m assuming it’s supposed to be Das EFX walking and entering the studio in the background), Das kicks things off with heavy drums and a thick bass line that they use to yell a high energy chant for approximately thirty seconds.

No Diggedy – The song title’s not only the hook, but a double entendre for the ebonical way of saying “no doubt” and a tongue and cheek poke at themselves for abandoning their stuttering style on the previous album. They do bring the style back for this one, as they mix small slabs of it into their shit talk over some decent Premo boom bap.

Knockin’ Niggaz Off – Easy Mo Bee gets his first production credit of the evening, sliding the duo some hard shit that they spit quality battle rhymes on. Add the catchy hook built around a dope Rakim bar and this ends up being a solid joint.

Here We Go – Das continues to talk their shit and spew battle raps over a dope Solid Scheme backdrop, complete with triumphant horns.

Real Hip-Hop (Original Version) – This was the lead single and the only song I was familiar with going into this review. Premo gets his second and final production credit of the evening, laying down an ill slow-rolling bop with a dense bass line that our hosts use to represent the real hip-hop over.

Here It Is – Kevin Geeda hooks up a sinisterly dark instrumental for Skoob and Dray, who continue to spew quality rhymes. As great as Das sounds, they are out done by Geeda’s exceptional instrumental.

Microphone Master – Apparently this was the second single from Hold It Down. Mo Bee cooks up a slick soundscape that sounds like something Premo might have done. Dray and Skoob proceed to bless it with their “sewer style”, completing the second part of a potent one-two combination punch.

40 & A Blunt – I bet you can figure out what this one is about. Mo Bee drops off some laidback cool shit that Das uses to celebrate getting drunk and smoking weed over. I chuckle every time I hear Skoob randomly say “I buys ten bags for dolo, sick of niggas askin’ “Yo, what up with K-Solo?””. This was a cool record that I would get high to if I smoked.

Buck -Buck – Over a simple but hard drum beat, Krazy and Skoob play hot potato with the mic without any breaks or hooks. They stop spittin’ just over the three minute mark, but it sounds like they could have gone on a lot longer if they wanted to.

Intro – Das starts the second half of Hold It Down with another intro. This one takes a super short snippet of the duo at a live show that goes right into the next song…

Can’t Have Nuttin’ – Gerald “Soul G” Stevens lives up to his alias, as he provides Das with a soulful backdrop that takes the listener to church, while Skoob and Dray testify, sharing their humble upbringings, how they met and ultimately got into the game. It’s rare to hear Das in storytelling mode, but they do a serviceable job and it was a nice change of pace from the rest of the content they’ve given us on Hold It Down to this point.

Alright – Das delivers more quality bars over an intense soulful banger, courtesy of Mo Bee. On the song’s last first Skoob calls out all the rappers who bit their style over the previous three years: “Some heard the style and did construction on it, but they just touchin’ on it, bitch ass niggas aint got nuttin’ for it”. This was dope.

Hold It Down – A title song should never sound this mediocre.

Dedicated – Here’s another one that I thought Premo did, but it’s actually credited to the legendary DJ Clark Kent. Das dedicates the hook to high niggas, fly bitches and niggas and chicks that run game, but the verses stick to the boastful shit talkin’ they’ve pretty much spewed the entire album. Even though this came out a year and a half before his untimely demise, it still made me pause when I heard Dray say “I saw ya, tried to steal my style, hit the balls, I guess ya must be ready to die like Biggie Smalls”.

Ready To Rock Rough Rhymes – Das takes a back seat and lets their long time production partners, Derek Lynch (aka DL) and Chris Charity (aka C-Dog), together known as Solid Scheme, shine, as they not only produce the potent and rough instrumental, but spit on it as well. Besides C-Dog saying “badder” (and not the stuff you make pancakes with), they actually sound decent on the mic (Chris has a dope rapping voice). Krazy and Skoob do show up at the tail end of the song, just to remind their producers who the real emcees are. This was dope.

Represent The Real – To confirm that their beef with KRS-One was truly squashed, the duo invite The Teacher to join them on this one (for a quick recap on their beef, click here, then scroll down and read my thoughts on “We In There”). KRS would also include this on his self-titled album that would be released a few weeks after Hold It Down. From Showbiz’ instrumental to all three emcees’ rhymes, this was very ho-hum.

Comin’ Thru – Das handles DJ Scratch’s decent backdrop well, but I wasn’t crazy about this one.

Hardcore Rap Act – Our hosts breeze over Solid Scheme’s airy and very serious instrumental, but Skoob, specifically, demolishes this shit: “You never catch me rappin’ about some shit like the government, but I be snappin’ on emcees like your bitch snap on Doublemint, got a shotty and a burner and I keeps the two ready, to hit you in your chest like Steve Young do Jerry, Rice, been nice, since doc sliced, my umbilocal, knew that I would be the ill funk freaker of the syllables, and son is rugged you’re gonna love it in an instant, see I smoke blunts, but yo my Pops smoked Winstons”. This was a tough record.

Bad News – Scratch hooks up a very hard EPMD-esque backdrop, as Das is joined by PMD for this short little diddly.

Real Hip-Hop (Pete Rock Remix) – This was a bonus record, only included on the cd version of Hold It Down. As the title suggest, Pete Rock is responsible for the instrumental for this remix to the album’s lead single. Pete hooks up a mid-tempo high energy backdrop with some muscle that actually helps Dray and Skoob’s rhymes stand out more than the original mix.

Das EFX makes one thing very clear on Hold It Down: that they’re some “rappin’ ass negroes”. Their talent may have gotten lost in the animation of the first album and overlooked on their underwhelming follow-up, but Hold It Down finds the locked lyricists in full stride, mixing potent punchlines and metaphors with the perfect measurement of “iggity”, as they pretty much destroy every beat thrown at them. Speaking of beats, pound for pound, Hold It Down has the best batch of instrumentals of Das’ first three albums. Their battle/braggadocio freestyles become a little redundant by the midway point and they could have shaved three of four songs off the final product, but overall, they create an entertaining album that lives up to its title.

-Deedub

 

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Prince Markie Dee – Love Daddy (September 8, 1995)

Do you know what today is???? Yep, you guessed it! If you live in the states, its Election Day! If you haven’t voted already make sure you get out there and vote. Now back to our regularly scheduled program…

To those who don’t know, Prince Markie Dee is the former member of The Fat Boys (the light skin one), turned producer for some of Uptown Records early nineties artists, turned solo artist, himself. He released his debut solo album, Free, in August of ’92 on Columbia Records (you can read my review on that album and get more on PMD’s background here). Much like the songs he produced for others, Free was chock-full of R&B saturated hip-hop instrumentals with love themes. The album received poor reviews and soon Markie Dee would be looking for a new label home. Fittingly, he would land at Motown where he would release his sophomore effort, Love Daddy

Prince Markie Dee and his long-time production partner, Mark Rooney would handle most of the production on Love Daddy, with help from a few outside parties. The album went so far under the radar that I don’t think anyone bought it when it came out and the critics didn’t even waste time reviewing it. Years ago, I bought it for a few bucks and haven’t listened to it in its entirety until now. 

By the way, the artwork on the album cover is awful. 

Miss Jones (Interlude 1)Love Daddy begins with the first of a series of interludes that has the bedroom-voiced and former radio personality, Miss Jones seductively interviewing Prince Markie Dee about the album over some quiet storm shit.

Crunchtime – Markie Dee is joined by his protégé, Hasan The Love Child for the first song of the evening, as the two take turns spittin’ some decent boastful shit for Markie’s limited male fan base. Anthony Perez and Kevin Perez (I wonder if they’re related) use the same Grover Washington Jr. loop (“Hydra”) that Da Beatminerz used for Black Moon’s classic record, “How Many MC’s…” and dress it up in pretty keyboard chords and a harmonized hook (that annoyingly has our host repeating: “Look for doddy”). This makes for a decent start to the evening. 

L.D. – If you haven’t figured it out already, “L.D.” is short for “Love Daddy”. Our host calls on his former Fat Boys’ alum, Buffy aka The Human Beat Box (who’s credited in the liner notes as Darren “Buff” Robinson) to produce this one and he samples the heavily recycled Isley Brothers “Between The Sheets” for the backdrop. I found it semi-interesting that Buffy is credited for the instrumental, since Markie accused Biggie and Puffy of stealing this instrumental from him and using it for the classic record “Big Poppa”. Markie Dee tries his best to emulate Biggie’s “player” swag on this one (I chuckle every time I hear him say “Let your guard down, I’m sure to get up in ya with speed, make sure to bag it up, so I can catch my seed”), but falls very short. 

Tell Me That You Want It – Markie D and his longtime production partner Mark Rooney interpolate Tom Browne’s “Jamaica Funk” for our host to spit game to a certain lady over. I love the groove, but I was even more impressed by the group, Onome’s dope vocal performance on the hook and adlibs (I’ll have to check if they have any of their own music out there). This was pretty dope. 

Miss Jones (Interlude 2) – Miss Jones continues to flirt with Markie over the same quiet storm instrumental from the previous interlude. 

Garden Of Love – The Perez boys lay the R&B on thick with this one. Markie uses it to talk sex, dropping lines like “I bust off like a gat” and leaving the object of his erection “cummin’ like Niagara”. Billy Lawrence compliments the mellow groove nicely, sprinkling her pretty vocals on the hook. 

I Wanna Get With You – The Perez boys recycle a loop from Teddy P’s “Love T.K.O.” for the backdrop (another overly used popular sample amongst hip-hop producers/artists). Our host uses it to go on the hunt for some good good and ends up meeting a chick named Miranda whom he feeds “lines about delusions of grandeur”, which is probably the illest bar Markie Dee ever spit in his life. Mark Rooney almost derails this one with his out of key chords on the hook and adlibs (he kind of sounds like the terrible Juice Crew crooner, TJ Swan), but it winds up being a decent listen. 

Mellow – This is easily my favorite song on Love Daddy. Markie takes a break from all the love and sex talk, as he and Hasan get braggadocio and talk their shit over a feel good instrumental built around an ill loop with a bangin’ bass line. Our host must really like the word “grandeur”, as he forces it into a second consecutive song. This time around he’s “having visions of grandeur”, and I’m not sure what that even means. But regardless, Vincent Mason’s addictive groove we’ll keep you vibin’ and hitting the replay button, over and over and over…

Miss Jones (Interlude 3) -More of the same as the first two interludes. 

All My Love All The Time – And back to the R&B. Prince Markie Dee invites R&B singer Joe (how impressive is it to have a common name like Joe and be able to use that alone as your stage name? And it worked!) to join him, as they rap and croon, respectively, about getting to feel and taste a certain lady’s punani. During his second verse, Markie refers to himself as a “two hundred pounder”, which is a stretch, since I’m sure he was far north of 250, but it makes for a good chuckle. It was very nasty to hear Joe beg a chick to “give it” to Markie Dee (“Love Daddy”) at the end of the song, but this is an irresistible banger that sounds better with each listen.  

Back Is The Incredible – If “Mellow” is my favorite song on Love Daddy, this one is my second fav. The Marks hook up the drums from Taana Gardner’s classic record “Heartbeat” and add some airy synth chords to bring the instrumental to beautiful completion, while our host and Hasan spit passable bars over it. 

Everyman – Markie’s “perfect gentlemen-meet all your needs” persona comes off as insincere, and the overly emotional synthy instrumental sounds cheesy. 

Out Of The Love – After taking the love of his life out of the hood and showing her the finer things in life, Markie discovers she’s been cheating on him, so now he’s out of the love. It’s always comical to hear a man tell a woman “I made you feel like a woman should feel”. It’s not a great song, but I enjoyed the instrumental and the jazzy bridge break. 

Who’s The Man – Our host uses this jazzy mid-tempo groove to talk his shit on, as he claims to be “smoother than a baby’s ass” and that he’s “puttin’ an end to niggas rap careers.” While the former is debatable, the latter is a flat out lie. It was kind of pointless to have Hasan come in at the end of the song and spit eight bars, but whatever. Random thought: Heavy D had a song with the same title…was this an indirect shot from one overweight lover to another? And can I get a question mark at the end of the song title, please? 

Call My Name – The Marks loop up Mtume’s “Juicy” for the backdrop and our host uses it to tell his peeps that if they need anything he’s just a phone call away. This is another instrumental that Markie Dee claims Puffy and Biggie stole from him. He should have just handed it over to them without a fight. 

Miss Jones (Interlude 4) – One final flirting session between Miss Jones and our host. It sounded like she may have creamed her panties when Markie mentioned he might do some work in movies. 

Mellow (Special Remix For My People) – The two Marks sample the funky guitar break from Idris Muhammed’s “Crab Apple” record for this remix, as Markie and Hasan spit more braggadocios bars over it. Markie Dee sounds a lot like Heavy D on this one.

Can I Get A Witness (Interlude) – It’s labeled as an interlude, but at almost three minutes long it might as well have just been called a song. Over jazzy instrumentation, Markie Dee invites Dwight Thompson to takes us to church, as he croons the same line over and over again, throwing in a few adlibs here and there. And that concludes Love Daddy.  

On Love Daddy, Prince Markie Dee apes portions of Biggie and Heavy D’s style, picks the low hanging fruit with his sample selection, bombards you with sappy love raps, but somehow he manages to make most of the shit sound good. I know the hardcore organic hip-hop heads won’t feel this album, but if you’re like me and enjoy an occasional taste of R&B rap, you’ll find a large chunk (no pun intended) of Love Daddy entertaining, in a guilty pleasure kind of way. 

-Deedub 

 

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Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Conspiracy (August 22, 1995)

After the success of his definitive debut album, Ready To Die and a few classic remixes and cameos, Biggie Smalls was a viable candidate for king of New York and seemingly had the world in his chubby palms. Instead of rushing back to the studio to record a follow-up, he would first go back and take care of his Brooklyn crew, Junior M.A.F.I.A. The M.A.F.I.A (which is a ridiculously corny acronym for Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) was made up of The Snakes (the duo of Trife and Larceny), Cheek Del Vec, Kleptomaniac, Lil’ Cease and the Queen B, Lil’ Kim. With Big’s help, they were able to secure a deal with Big Beat/Atlantic (I wonder why Puff didn’t sign them to Bad Boy), where they would release their debut album, Conspiracy.

JM would call on the legendary DJ Clark Kent and a handful of veteran producers to sculpt the sound of Conspiracy, which produced a few moderately successful singles and would go on to earn the crew a gold plaque. But despite all of the commercial success, the reviews for Conspiracy were mixed upon its release.

Junior M.A.F.I.A. would disband shortly after the murder of Biggie in 1997, but Conspiracy would lay the ground work for Lil’ Kim’s successful solo career. In 2005, a few of the members would reunite and release Riot Musik independently under the Junior M.A.F.I.A. name, but it came and went faster than Pokémon Go with little hoopla or fanfare. 

Intro – The album opens with a convoluted skit that ends with Junior M.A.F.I.A and a rival crew getting into a shootout that bleeds (no pun intended) into the first song…

White Chalk – Daddy-O (formerly of Stetsasonic) and Understanding concoct a sinisterly dark boom-bap treat for Trife & Larceny to delve into the “murder disease” they claim to suffer from. Larceny’s delivery and energy are godawful on this one. He sounds like a first grader who just woke up and is struggling to read his lyrics off the page. Thankfully, Trife (who sounds a lot like Havoc from Mobb Deep) sounds more convincing with his violent threats (I still laugh every time I hear him say “Don’t do this killin’ shit for real, I do this shit for fun”). The ill Biggie Smalls and Method Man (I should start a tally count of how many cameos or vocal samples he had in ’95) vocal snippets on the hook make this dark song sound even colder.

Excuse Me… – So apparently some of the gunshots we heard at the end of the intro ended up hitting Larceny. This skit finds the M.A.F.I.A. at the hospital trying to check on him, but they get thrown out for being disgruntled and disruptive. All the nurse asked for was his government name because she couldn’t find him under his rap alias and they snapped. Geesh! 

Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Biggie and DJ Clark Kent hook up a banger for Lil’ Cease, Cheek Del Vec, Jamal (formerly one-half of the short lived duo, Illegal) and Notorious himself, to come together for this ill cipher joint. Cease and Cheek do a solid job of warming things up for Jamal, who turns in an impressive verse. But of course, B-I-G walks away with this one and makes it sound easy. This is a tough record that I completely forgot about.  

Player’s Anthem – This was the lead single from Conspiracy. Biggie, Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease come together to represent for all the players out there. Biggie’s catchy hook (that hi-lariously instructs niggas to grab their dicks if they love hip-hop and bitches to rub their titties if they love him) and DJ Clark Kent’s feel good bouncy instrumental help this classic record hold up well, twenty-five years after its release. 

I Need You Tonight – This was Conspiracy’s second single. Trife, Lil’ Kim (who will ever forget her sexy seductive line about doing “things to you, that Vanessa Del Rio would be shamed to do”?) and Klepto use this one to talk relationships and sex (with an emphasis on the sex) over Clark Kent’s warm and cozy backdrop built around a loop from Patrice Rushen’s classic record, “Remind Me” (that has been used several times in hip-hop, but always sounds amazing to my ears). An uncredited Faith Evans sings the hook and adlibs (she would be replaced in the video/single version of the song by Aaliyah (rip)), which is the icing on top of this delectable cake. 

Get Money – This was the third and final single and easily the biggest hit on Conspiracy. Biggie and Kim freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson, or more like Ike and Tina, since Big threatens to beat the shit out of Kim for snitchin’ on him during his verse. EZ Elpee’s funky mid-tempo bop helps Big and Kim’s rhymes sound even more entertaining. 

I’ve Been… – This skit always cracks me up. A dude calls his girl and asks her to fuck him and his mans. After she calls him disrespectful for asking and shuts him down, the dude then accuses her of already fucking his man, to which she replies: “What? So what, nigga fuck you!” Hi-larious!!!

Crazaay – The Snakes get their second group joint of the evening. Clark Kent lays yet another ill backdrop, sliding the duo a smooth mid-tempo groove with a seductive bass line that they use to pretty much cover the same ground as they did on “White Chalk”. Unlike “White Chalk”, Larceny sounds awake on this go, and ten times better than he did the first time around. 

Back Stabbers – A paranoid Lil’ Kim is worried that chicks are coming for her position and possessions, which keeps her high on weed, strapped and rocking a bulletproof dress for protection (that shit sounds dangerously sexy as hell). Kim adapts a monotone flow to match Daddy-O’s slower paced melodic instrumental (the Lalah Hathaway vocal loop laced throughout the song was masterful), while Jimmy Cozier sings the hook from the classic O’Jays’ record with the same name. Brilliant record from top to bottom. 

Shot! – This skit has Trife making a phone call to some unidentified man, letting him know that Larceny’s been shot and to come visit him at the hospital. I’m not sure what this added to Conspiracy, but whatever. 

Lyrical Wizardry – Akshun (yep, Special Ed’s deejay) gets his first of two production credits of the evening, and he laces Klepto with a hard backdrop with eerie vibes that our host handles fairly well: “Emcees get cut like glass, cut like class, rag tagged and crash, hemp bags, come save dat ass”. Yet another banger on an album stacked with them. 

Oh My Lord – Speaking of Special Ed, he gets the production credit on this one and provides a simple stripped-down backdrop for Klepto and Biggie to play a game of name brand-drug dealing-gun bustin’ hot potato over. Klepto does a solid job of matching Big’s superior flow (which might be because Big penned some of his shit), and this ends up being a solid record. 

Murder Onze – Akshun gets his second production credit of the evening, providing a semi-sleepy instrumental for Cheek Del Vec, Klepto, Trife and Larceny to regurgitate more of the street shit they’ve spewed throughout Conspiracy. Speaking of regurgitate, Cheek recycles Biggie’s “929 Mazda” line from “Oh My Lord”, substituting “Natasha” with “Rhonda”, which is both lazy and embarrassing, and strong proof that Biggie ghost wrote for more than Lil’ Kim on Conspiracy

Outro – The album ends with Trife asking Kim if she thinks Larceny will recover from the six shots he took, to which she response optimistically (in her own hood fashion), as his heart monitor beeps in the background. Then Trife ends the album saying: “That nigga took six shots, man…ain’t too many niggas get up from that shit, man. But I know whoever did it, man, they ain’t gonna be that happy”. Maybe it’s a reach, but it almost sounds like Trife’s comment was a subliminal reference to the infamous 1994 robbery and shooting of 2pac at Quad Studios (the same studio that Conspiracy was recorded in) that Pac would later blame on Biggie and his peeps. But it would explain the album’s title. 

Conspiracy proves there’s truth to the old adage that there is power in numbers. Individually (with the exception of Lil’ Kim), none of the members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. are talented enough to hold their own and entertain for a full album. But collectively, with a strong backing from their mentor, Biggie Smalls, they do a solid job of holding the listener’s attention with their materialistic brand of gangsta raps. Even more impressive is the production work that pretty much bangs from beginning to end. I could have done without the last song and the interludes that attempt to carry on the weak story line, but Conspiracy is still an underrated album that may be a candidate for sleeper album of the year.

-Deedub 

 

 

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Twinz – Conversation (August 22, 1995)

The Twinz (not to be confused with the New Orleans-based female duo and one time Rap-A-Lot Record affiliate, the Ghetto Twinz, or the Ying Yang Twins, or any other twin rap duo you would like to insert here) are the Long Beach, California-based identical twin brother rap duo, made up of Wayniac and Tripp Loc. We first heard from the Williams boys on their mentor, Warren G’s debut album, Regulate, where they made a couple of cameo appearances. Warren G would add them to his G-Funk Music group roster and helped them snag a deal with Def Jam (which was also Warren’s label home) where they would release their debut album, Conversation.

Warren G would be responsible for sonically sculpting Conversation, producing all but one song on the album. Despite not having any hit singles and flying under the radar for the most part, Conversation fared well on the charts and received positive reviews, including an impressive 4 Mic rating from The Source at a time when it still had credible.

I don’t remember hearing Conversation back in ’95 and probably didn’t even know it existed until around ’05 when I bought it used on the strength of being a fan of Warren G’s production work on Regulate. I believe this is my first time listening to Conversation in its entirety. So let’s listen together and then have a…conversation afterwards. Yeah, I know that was corny, but it was worth a try.

Conversation #1Conversation starts with a skit that has the Twinz in the studio putting the finishing touches on the album (by the way, the closing bars that Tripp Loc spits are trash). Then our hosts ask the studio engineer, Greg, to play the album back.

Round & Round – The first song of the night (which was also the album’s first single) features Wayniac and Tripp Loc dropping subpar bars over a decent feel good instrumental and a poorly written hook. What the hell does “Twinz got the sound that goes round and round” even mean?

Good Times – Over a smooth G-funk groove the Twinz reminisce about the good old days of their youth. Their rhymes fair better than what they spit on the previous song, and once again, the talented Nanci Fletcher is forced to sing yet another poorly written hook.

4 Eyes 2 Heads – This is the only song on Conversation that Warren G didn’t produce. Soopafly (who’s credited in the liner notes by his government name, Priest Brooks) slides our hosts a synth-heavy poor man’s version of a Dr. Dre circa The Chronic era instrumental that the duo use to get into some gangsta shit over. Nanci Fletcher sits this one out, but the reggae-tinged hook doesn’t fare much better. After a zillion listens, I still have no idea what their saying on the second half of the hook.

Jump Ta This – A very mediocre party song that if you listen to it enough, you might start to believe that you actually like it.

Eastside LB – This was the second single from Conversation. Warren G sprinkles some G-Funk over Denise Williams’ classic “Free” record that Tripp Loc and Wayniac use to celebrate the place they call home: the eastside of Long Beach, California. This is a nice summertime barbeque record, and it uses a well-placed Q-Tip vocal sample, so I can mark off my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Sorry I Kept You – The Twinz drop off another “sac of that G shit” over another funky Warren G bop. By the way, I love the Richard Pryor sample at the beginning of this one.

Conversation #2 – This interlude is supposed to bridge the previous song with the next one.

Journey Wit Me – The Twinz show appreciation, dedication and motivation on this… conversation (bars!). Warren G’s smooth G-Funk groove is addictive and the uncredited male vocalist sounds great singing the catchy hook. This is easily my favorite song on Conversation.

Hollywood – Tripp and Wayniac invite Neb and Jah Skillz of Da 5 Footaz to join them, as they make a hip-hop version of Rufus’ classic song with the same title. Nanci Fletcher makes yet another appearance, playing Chaka Khan on the hook. It’s not one of the strongest songs on the album, but it grows on you after a few listens.

1st Round Draft Pick – I’m kind of confused on what the song title means. Based on the Warren G hook (which is equally corny and catchy) and Wayniac and Tripp Loc’s verses, the song is clearly about violence: the violence that the Twinz will inflict on you if you try them and the violence that goes on in the hood in general. But what the hell does that have to do with a draft pick? Are they calling themselves cream of the crop prospects that would get picked in the first round of a murderer draft? Or are they saying you’ll be the first to get picked and clipped if you fuck with them? Regardless, Warren G’s slick instrumental will keep your head bobbin’ way past the first round of this draft.

Conversation #3 – Short interlude that sets up the next song.

Don’t Get It Twisted – Our hosts use this mid-tempo groove to call out the ladies who suddenly want to get with them now that they have a little money in their pockets. A group called New Birth drops in on the hook and adlibs to add some gospelish soul flavor to Warren’s infectious groove.

Pass It On – The Twinz wrap up Conversation by inviting Mnmsta and T-Dubb of Foesum and Warren G (who handles the generic and uncreative hook) to take part in this very underwhelming weed session. The last bars of the song are the same bars you heard Tripp Loc say during the album’s intro, which is supposed to bring things full circle, I guess. By the way, the bars are still trash.

If rapping was weed, the Twinz would be mid-grade. On Conversation they don’t wow or mesmerize you with their rhyming ability and content, but they don’t completely suck, either. Instead, they deliver a steady dose of west coast slang and hood shit that doesn’t cover any unchartered territory. The heart and soul of Conversation is Warren G’s production. Most of the album is laced with G-Funk bangers that make the Twinz mediocre rhymes tolerable and Conversation an enjoyable listen. And by the way, Tripp Loc’s closing bars are still trash.

-Deedub

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