Shyheim – The Lost Generation (May 28, 1996)

Shyheim Franklin, better known to the world as Shyheim the Rugged Child, was a kid rapper out of Staten Island, New York that came on the scene in the mid-nineties. Coming up under the tutelage of Big Daddy Kane and his fellow Staten Island bredrin, RZA, Shyheim was able to score a deal with Virgin Records, where he released his debut album, AKA The Rugged Child in 1994 at the tender age of sixteen. While the album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it did receive positive reviews and receptions from the streets, which would lead to Shyheim releasing his sophomore effort and the subject of today’s post, The Lost Generation.

Like Rugged Child, Shyheim would lean heavily on RNS (not to be confused with the Rebel INS) to handle most of TLG’s production with some of the work being distributed to the likes of D/R Period, L.E.S., and the Abbott himself, RZA. TLG would produce two singles and peak at 63 on the Billboard Top 200 and 10 on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts, ultimately resulting in a yet another commercial failure for the Staten Island rapper. Shyheim would go on to release three more albums between 1999 and 2009 but would also find himself getting into criminal trouble, resulting in him serving a couple of bids, including a 2014 second degree manslaughter conviction for a hit-and-run that left one person dead. He would serve six of the fourteen-year sentence, before being released in January of 2020.

I know I sound like a broken record by this point, but The Lost Generation is yet another album that I didn’t listen to back in the day. A few years back, I copped it at a used bookstore for two dollars and will be experiencing it for the first time now with you all. So, with no further delay, lets jump into.

Shit Iz Real TLG begins with arguably the most cliche and overused song title in the history of hip-hop, accompanied by a heavily r&b flavored groove, built around a Surface (as in the group) sample. Shyheim’s voice has definitely matured since his AKA The Rugged Child days, as he uses his newfound tenor vocal tone to terrorize the hood with outlandish tales of peeling caps through peekholes and shooting up cars, making them flip into fiery explosions (It was pretty funny to hear Shy say he “spotted a gangsta bitch, told her to hold it”, in reference to getting rid of the weapon he used to blow up the car with). It was also mildly funny to hear Shy’s guest, DeLouie Avant Jr., croon “It be real when I’m packin’ steel” on the hook. I’m pretty sure the exploits that Shy brags about on this song are far from real, but they’re still somewhat entertaining, as was RNS’ smooth production.

Dear God – This was obviously recorded much earlier than the previous song, with Shyheim’s pre-puberty voice being the dead giveaway. RNS hooks up an emotional backdrop imbedded with a dope whistle that finds the young whippersnapper overwhelmed by the stresses of this world and ready to check out: “I’m in another world looking from the outside in, a corrupt planet, operating strictly off sin, you ask me will I miss this joint when I pass, the world can kiss my ass, I’m staring at the hour glass, everyday lived is a step towards death, it’s not until you’re dead that your body’s at rest.” Pop Da Brown Hornet drops by during the third verse to engage in a back and forth with Shy to talk him off the proverbial ledge, and thankfully, his attempt is successful. With mental health being such a sexy topic nowadays, this song couldn’t be more relevant and the execution of it all was solid. Well done, Shyheim.

Jiggy Comin’ – RNS creates a sorrowful synth instrumental (it literally has a lamenting female voice embedded in the track) that baby voice Shyheim uses to give a big middle finger to all the cops policing the hood. It’s not the best “fuck the police” record that I’ve heard, but it’s decent enough.

5 Elements – RNS does his best Rza impersonation with this instrumental, as he crafts a dark, dusty and rugged canvas tailor made for Shaolin’s finest to shine on. Unfortunately, none of the Wu-Tang members show up for the party, but Shy is joined by some fellow Wu-affiliates. Rubbabandz, Pop “The Brown Hornet”, Down Low Reka and Junelover, all stop by to bless the mic on this cipher session, and all parties involved spit formidable verses to match the hard backdrop, with The Brown Hornet shining the brightest. This was dope.

Shaolin Style – Speaking of Shaolin. L.E.S. gets his only production credit of the night, as he loops up a portion of Patrice Rushen’s classic record, “Settle For My Love” to create this breezy soulful bop that Shy (who transforms back into grown Shyheim) and his homie, Squig, use to rep for their borough, Staten Island aka Shaolin. Shy and Squig (whose voice and delivery sounds very similar to Shyheim’s) turn in serviceable performances, but the creamy instrumental and the clever and catchy Method Man vocal snippet on the hook are the engines that make this thing go.

Real Bad Boys – After a quick interlude that features a pimp beat and some uncredited male voice spewing random thoughts that sound like a freestyle spoken word piece, a semi-triumphant sounding instrumental comes in, and baby voice Shyheim returns to talk more of his thug shit. This was mid-grade at best.

What Makes The World Go Round – The missing question mark in the song title is on Shyheim, not me. Trigger Tha Gambler, Smoothe Da Hustler and Rubbabandz all join grown man Shy on this cipher session, while DV Alias Khrist brings it all together, flexing his grizzly baritone vocal on the hook. Other than DV’s singing on the hook, this song has absolutely nothing to do with what the song title suggests, but all four emcees entertain with quality output over D/R Period’s solid instrumental.

Can You Feel It – RNS loops up Gwen McCrae’s “Funky Sensation” for the backdrop and Shyheim sounds a little more playful on the mic than he has for most of the album up to this point, but still manages to keep things slightly gangsta. He also tries to force us to believe that his line “I’m a max like Nissan” was dope, and then insults the listener’s intelligence by spending the next bar explaining the corny play on words (I hate when rappers do that shit). King Just and Junelover also make cameos, but you won’t recognize their voices, as they’re distorted on some Sir Nose type shit and only appear shortly in between Shy’s verses. This record sounds like an attempt to make Shyheim and TLG more pop accessible, which obviously didn’t work out for him.

Life As A Shorty – Shyheim discusses his rough and tragic upbringing over a synthesized melancholic Tone Capone produced instrumental that results in more mid-grade music.

Don’t Front/Let’s Chill – This song finds our host in an interesting dilemma. A young lady is feeling Shyheim and wants to get serious, and Shy is also feeling said young lady, but he’s not trying to make her his one and only, or as he so blatantly puts it: “You’re mad sweet, and plus you look good like a muthafucka, but Imma player and not just a one-woman lover.” Two young ladies, Lamisha Grinstead and Keemeelah Williams, are credited with singing the hook, and one of his two guests (I have no idea which one) actually sings a rebuttal to Shy’s first verse. The dimly lit backdrop has a hint of middle eastern vibes and sounds nice backing our host’s thug love story. I’m shocked this record wasn’t released as a single; it definitely has crossover qualities, but still allows Shyheim to stay true to his studio gangsta mannerisms.

Things Happen – This one starts with a female, who’s apparently visiting Shyheim on lockdown, asking him how he got there. Then RNS drops his beautifully dark soulful instrumental for Shy to give his explanation, and of course the reason is over some hood bullshit. I could care less about Shyheim’s ghetto Scarface drug tales, but RNS’s production work on this one is super dope.

See What I See – D/R Period gets his second and final production credit of the night and DV Alias Khrist returns (no pun intended) to sing another hook, continuing is quest to become the east coast version of Nate Dogg (rip). Unfortunately, everything about this song, including Shyheim’s bars, was forgettable.

Still There – After hearing Shyheim start the song off by saying “This one of them gettin’ your dick sucked type tracks”, I immediately thought this would be a misogynistic lust confused for love song. Instead, Shy uses the smooth “Roni” interpolated backdrop (shoutout to Bobby Brown) to borrow Nas’ “One Love” idea for the first verse, as he raps a written letter to his baby mama who’s apparently stopped visiting her incarcerated baby daddy. I have no idea what’s going on during the second verse, but DeLouie Avant Jr. drops by again, to sing the hook and adlibs. This makes for decent filler material.

Young Godz – Madman, Rubbabandz and Killa Sin join Shy for this album ending cipher session, while Raekwon drops by to adlib on the hook, along with RZA, who’s also responsible for the hook and the dusty backdrop. Once again, pre-puberty Shyheim’s voice makes it blatantly obvious that this was recorded during the earlier TLG sessions. RZA’s instrumental is passable, but this is definitely the weakest cipher record on the album and a lukewarm closure to TLG.

Shyheim doesn’t cover any new territory on The Lost Generation, as he regurgitates the same thug rhetoric that many rappers before him have already covered, but he and several of his guests manage to make the recycled topics sound moderately entertaining. Speaking of entertaining, the RNS led production, while far from stellar, is a pretty consistent mix of grimy boom bap made for the streets and polished popish instrumentals that were clearly crafted to make Shyheim sound commercially appealing, and I’m not mad at that strategy. My biggest gripe with TLG is the various versions of Shyheim that sporadically appear, as song to song finds him changing from baby voice Shyheim to mature voice Shyheim, as if they took lost records from the Rugged Child sessions and mixed them in with Shy’s current joints just to fill out an album. With that said, TLG plays more like a Shyheim compilation than an actual album, but there are still enough solid records on TLG to make it a worthwhile listen.


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Kool Keith – Dr. Octagonecologyst (May 7, 1996)

In 1988 the Ultramagnetic MC’s made quite the first impression with their groundbreaking debut album, Critical Beatdown. Led by Ced Gee’s dope production and Kool Keith’s slick bars and unique rhyme patterns, the four-man crew out of the Bronx were able to sculpt a classic album that still sound as entertaining today as it did over thirty years ago when it was released. Ultramagnetic would follow-up Critical Beatdown with Funk Your Head Up in ‘92 and The Four Horsemen in ‘93, but neither album would live up to or capture the magic of their superb debut. I don’t know if the group ever officially broke up, but it would be another fourteen years before we would get another Ultramagnetic MC’s album. In the in between time, Kool Keith would embark on his solo career, releasing his debut solo project, Dr. Octagonecologyst in 1996.

Dr. Octagonecologyst (who is one of Kool Keith’s alter ego’s) is a collab album that features Keith on the mic, mostly, Dan The Automator behind the boards and DJ Q-Bert on the scratches. The album cover artwork (as you can see above) shows Dr. Octagon donning his full doctor apparel while holding a skull in one hand and a microphone in the other, looking like a whole hip-hop Marvel villain. And if the eye-catching album cover artwork wasn’t enough to gain your attention, the back of the liner notes insert has a pic of a bed covered in blood and “For heavens sake eateth me before I kill more I cannot control myself” plastered in blood on the wall. Sounds like some demented shit to me.

I found a used copy of Dr. Octagon years ago and have never listened to it until now. The dark imagery of the packaging has sparked my interest, but I’m a little apprehensive going into this, as Kool Keith’s lyrical output clearly begin to decline since his legendary performance on Critical Beatdown, which we just discussed a few weeks ago for his dismal cameo on Chino XL’s “The Shabba-Doo Conspiracy“.

Fingers crossed.

Intro – The album opens with semi-evil chords placed over soft drums and a dense bass line, while a clip from, what must be a porno flick, plays over it; all to welcome the listener to Dr. Octagonecologyst.

3000 – The Automator offers up steady drums, a discretely funky bass line, complemented by some well-placed DJ Q-Bert scratches, as Keith uses the backdrop to fire abstract verbal darts at the competition and make awkward boasts of his greatness. I don’t know if Keith’s unorthodox flow will usher hip-hop into the year 3000 as he proclaims, but you will have to listen to this song at least three thousand times to catch all of Keith’s rhymes.

I Got To Tell You – Short interlude that works as a commercial for Dr. Octagon’s practice. He specializes in intestine surgery, rectal rebuilding, relocated saliva glands and my personal favorites, chimpanzee acne and moose bumps. If you suffer from any of these medical issues, you can reach Dr. Oct at 1-800-PP5-1DODO. Hi-larious.

Earth People – This one’s a banger. The Automator creates a dark mood with angry synth chords, orgasmic key taps and slick drums that may have fathered the trap drums so prevalent in hip-hop today (still waiting on the paternity results). Keith goes from the year 3000 to reppin’ for Jupiter as he gets deep into his Dr. Octagon persona. Apparently, Dr. Oct is a green and silver skinned bald headed alien doctor, who will pull out your skull to remove your cancer and is also ready to mix it up with earthlings, as he comes equipped with “four bombs and six fire missiles, armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols.” He also boasts that you can “watch his brain glow” in “five colors: yellow, black and green and red, purple.” You might not dig Keith’s, I mean, Dr. Octagon’s nerdy sci-fi rhymes, but you can’t front on The Automator’s brilliant backdrop.

No Awareness – This one begins with dialogue taken from an old 1930’s flick, Dr. X, which sets the scene for Dr. Octagon and his co-worker, Sir Menelik, to take turns spittin’ verses full of technical jargon, a bunch of numbers and occasional pop culture references. Once again, The Automator delivers with more lovely production to back his partner and friend’s off-kilter antics.

Real Raw – As the title suggests, The Automator slides Dr. Oct a stripped-down very raw instrumental that finds the good doctor sounding lyrically more like the Kool Keith from 1988: “Gnip Gnop, you think you got that real hip-hop? I soar the charts so quickly, watched your album flop, I’m Doctor Octo’, curlin’ weights, tourin’ rhinos, liftin’ horses, throwin’ cows at your fake forces, you know my gold style, rabbit fur coat style, you be freezin’, with the flu watch you keep sneezin’.” This was dope, and it also serves as a reminder to all emcees to not get it twisted. Just because Keith is on some abstract sci-fi shit, don’t mean he can’t come back to planet earth to bust yo’ ass on the mic.

General Hospital – Short interlude to set up the next song…

Blue Flowers – Dr. Oct spews more abstract sci-fi nerd bars, and as great as The Automator’s production has been up to this point, this beautifully callous canvas (built around an amazing eerie violin loop) might be his most masterful moment of the evening.

Technical Difficulties – This is one of two tracks on Dr. Octagon that The Automator didn’t produce. Instead, Kut Masta Kurt (whose Publishing name, Funky Redneck Productions, is hi-larious) gets his first of two production credits on the night. Kurt’s instrumental sounds like blustering wind wrapped around a soothing melody, while Keith continues to spew his nerd bars. The scrambled Spanish-speaking radio transmission placed in between verses (credited to Whoolio E Glacias) was strange, but a perfect match for this song.

A Visit To The Gynecologyst – Another great interlude, and like the “Intro”, I’m confident the dialogue was taken from a porno flick.

Bear Witness – DJ Q-Bert scratches the shit out of The Automator’s stripped-down but very funky beat that also incorporates a great Chuck D soundbite.

Dr. Octagon – The title track (produced by Kut Masta Kurt) finds our host and Sir Menelik (who uses the alias Chewbacca Uncircumcised for this record) mixing it up again with more leftfield oddball nerd raps. This is definitely one of the weaker tracks on Dr. Octagon.

Girl Let Me Touch You – Over a soulful bop (I love the sexy piano keys sprinkled throughout) Dr. Oct transforms into his full alias, Dr. Octagonecologyst (your orthopedic gynecologist), temporarily putting his scalpel and stethoscope away, so he can chase a little kitty cat: “Girl, what’s wrong? come here let me take a look, you say you got burnt, your man should have wore a rubber, What type of partners you have and who’s your first lover? He never turned you around, showed you doggystyle? We got some things in common, honey, let’s talk awhile, Did he lick you there? Percolate your atmosphere? I got a mask at home, boots and some leather gear.” Keith’s hook is both catchy and creepy, and these type of records, which find him in his sweet spot, are the type of songs I expected Dr. Octagon to be flooded with.

I’m Destructive – This one begins with Dr. Octagon on some psychotic shit, as he encourages a patient to “get in the water and touch the electric wires”, followed by snippets of Geraldo Riviera’s interview with convicted cannibal and murder, Daniel Rakowitz. The Automator is credited for the production, but Andy Boy’s sinister live guitar licks are the heart and soul of the instrumental and set the dark mood for Keith, who’s in his devious class clown bag: “What would you do, if I hit your face with dog doodoo? Smear poopoo flies on your forehead, spit in your salad, vomit on your brother’s breakfast.” Keith’s practical jokes progressively get more diabolical, as he talks about burning your mother’s house down, burning your dog’s legs, cutting your parakeet’s head off with scissors and bashing your head in with ten full cans of Campbell Soup. Yep, that sounds pretty destructive to me.

Wild And Crazy – This one sounds like The Automator tried to recreate the instrumental for the Ultramagnetic MC’s “Ego Trippin'”, putting a dark spin on it, and he succeeds. By the way, I love how Keith spits complex hard to follow rhyme schemes but keeps all his hooks super simple and straightforward.

Elective Surgery – Short interlude to set up the next song.

Halfsharkalligatorhalfman – And just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, Keith introduces yet another one of his alter-egos, Mr. Gerbik. Mr. Gerbik is Dr. Octagon’s two hundred-and eight-year-old uncle, who if you didn’t catch from the song title, is half shark-alligator, half man. The Automator provides spooky chords for Mr. Gerbik to brag about having skin like razor blades, smackin’ gorillas and having sex with mares. I’ve been excepting of most of Keith’s crazy leftfield hijinks to this point, but this is where I draw the line. The back of the Dr. Octagon cd jewel case teases of a Mr. Gerbik album. Thank God that never materialized.

Blue Flower Revisited – This one begins with a somber flute, soft shimmying drums and a nerve wrecking subdued rumbling bass line that’ll make you anxious. Then Keith, I mean, Dr. Octagon, starts to spew more sci-fi space rhetoric, while the instrumental slowly blossoms into the most beautifully eerie music that my ears have ever heard, literally leaving my arms with goosebumps. It sounds like the soundtrack to being abducted by an alien spaceship out in the middle of nowhere. Easily The Automator’s best production work of the night.

Waiting Room – And while still recovering from the mind-boggling brilliancy of the previous instrumental, The Automator (with an assist from DJ Shadow, which I’m sure is just the scratches on the record) comes right back and fucks my head up with another monster mid-tempo groove. Dr. Oct resorts back to old Keith and talks that shit, sounding great in the process.

1977 – The final song of the evening finds Keith crashing all the way back to planet earth, specifically, the birthplace of hip-hop, The Bronx. Over a basic break beat, Keith pays homage to the old school park jams and honors some of hip-hop’s pioneers, as he adapts a flow reminiscent of the late seventies era, spittin’ his bars into a low-quality microphone. And with that, Dr. Octagon’s a wrap.

Dr. Octagonecologyst is a bizarre ride through the mind and world of Kool Keith’s eccentric, psychotic and slightly perverted alter-ego. The album almost plays like a dark sci-fi comedy on wax, placed over mostly amazing drums and magnificent cold, eerie and melodic instrumentation, all woven together with clever interludes and skits, while great scratches serve as the cherry on top of the superb production. If you listen to Dr. Octagon once, it’s very possible that you won’t enjoy it, but if you live with it like I have for the past three plus weeks, the production sounds grander with each listen and Kool Keith’s unorthodox flow and weirdo space/serial killer raps go from sounding like kooky randomness to, at minimum, mildly intriguing. Then again, it could be The Automator’s production that makes Keith’s rhymes sound more interesting than they really are.

So, is Dr. Octagonecologyst lukewarm experimental nonsense or an elaborately abstract masterpiece? Today, I lean towards the latter, but we may not be able to accurately assess its value until the year 3000.


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Erick Sermon – Insomnia (April 23, 1996)

After EPMD decided to go their separate ways in 1993, Erick Sermon kept himself busy producing for others and with his own solo career. His first solo album, No Pressure, was a hot mess that even E would later poke fun at on the intro of its follow-up, Double Or Nothing. While Double Or Nothing was far from a masterpiece, it fared much better than its predecessor (you can read my complete thoughts on both albums by clicking here and here). One of the reasons DON sounded so much better than NP was the incorporation of more of his Def Squad friends and family. The Green-eyed bandit would build on that synergy for his next project, which would come in the form of the compilation album, Insomnia.

Insomnia loosely plays like a radio show mix on the faux radio station, 88.9 WFDS (an acronym for “Where From Dark Side”), hosted by Cherry Martinez (who was a radio DJ for Power 105.1 in New York at the time). E-Double would stay behind the boards for most of Insomnia, letting some of his already established Def Squad crew members shine on the mic, but he would also give a handful of newcomers a chance to prove themselves as well. Insomnia would produce three singles, make its way to number ten on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts and received positive reviews from the critics.

I haven’t listened to Insomnia in years, so let’s walk through it together and see if it keeps us awake.

Intro – The album opens with the lovely voice of Cherry Martinez, who welcomes the listener to Insomnia and introduces the first song of the evening.

Funkorama – If you’re going to make a compilation album it’s probably best that you start it off with a record from the strongest and most successful member in your crew. Redman (with a co-production credit going to Erick Sermon) creates a laidback instrumental for himself that sounds as peaceful as a cloudy day chillin’ at the lake, with just a touch of funk added to fill it out and make it a little edgy. Redman’s in full “Redman mode”, spittin’ witty and playful bars as he mildly wilds out over the track (I can understand why they chose to censor Red’s line about “bustin’ back at the boys in blue”, but I’m curious to why they felt they couldn’t let him say the year this song was recorded or at least punch the line and have him update it to ’96). Along with a well-placed Aaron Hall vocal snippet on the hook (taken from E-Double’s “Welcome” record off the Double Or Nothing album), Red also includes a clever Q-Tip vocal sample that references his name and takes care of Tribe Degrees of Separation for yet another post. This is a dope record and yet another exception to the rule that a hip-hop album should start with a song with crazy energy. Then again, Redman brings enough energy all by himself.

The Vibe – This song features the duo Xross Breed, comprised of Rockwilder (who is better known as the producer behind some of your favorite emcee’s records) and his partner in rhyme, Kewjo. Redman cooks up what he calls “cosmic funk” (and holds down hook duties), serving it hot to the fellas, as they each get off a verse. Thank God Rockwilder gave up rhyming to focus on producing, because neither he nor Kewjo sound that nice on the mic. At least Red’s moody funk mash up was enjoyable.

As The… – Erick builds this backdrop around strong drums and a warm melodic loop, as Passion uses it to rip shit up, delivering hardcore bars with her aggressive raspy vocal tone: “Who’s the next fool to step up and be the bravest? You wanna be courageous? I’ll get up in yo anus like an intravenous penis, Passion bringin’ thrillers, the lyrical killa, getting illa with the skilla.” This is one of the strongest records on Insomnia that once again left me thirsting to hear a solo album from Passion. Dammit, man.

Beez Like That (Sometimes) – After a quick check in from Cherry Martinez back at 88.9, Jamal and newcomer, Calif are paired up for this record. For years I thought this was a Jamal solo joint, as Calif’s voice, cadence and delivery sound very similar to Jamal’s, and both gentlemen spew generic, unimaginative and unbelievable gangsta bars on this one. E-Double chefs up a gulley backdrop with jazzy highlights, all built around an ill Weather Report loop (the same loop Havoc would use on “Live Nigga Rap” from Nas’ It Was Written album, that we’ll be discussing soon enough). It’s too bad that E couldn’t find stronger emcees to bless his dope instrumental.

It’s That HitInsomnia’s crown jewel comes very early in the evening in the form of this Keith Murray record. E hooks up a dope backdrop that brilliantly muddles the line between murky and melodic, as Keith brings his A-game, spittin’ superb bully raps: “I bugs the clubs, runnin’ with thugs, makin’ niggas bite the bullet and hug the slugs, ya whole genetics is pathetic, got me ready to set it, on a shot M1 type wetted, but instead I blow you buck-fifty cross the face, for tryna look hard in the first place, I need beer, and a lotta noise in my ear, and a rowdy atmosphere, to even think clear”. All of Keith’s profanity is censored on this record (which I’ll assume had everything to do with a sample clearance agreement), but at least they do it in a cool fashion, sprinkling breaking glass, sirens, gunshots and some random noise that sounds like a burp, over each of his curses. Keith punctuates the song with a simple but catchy hook, completing this masterpiece of a record.

Up Jump The Boogie – The Green-eyed bandit gets away from his normal funk-heavy production style and along with an assist from Sugarless aka Ty Fyffe, hooks up an enjoyable jazzy mid-tempo bop that sounds great and feels good. E-Double extends an invitation to The Wixtons (a duo comprised of Jah Boogie and Shugar Diamonds) to each spit a verse and a half, and while I wasn’t blown away by their performance, they didn’t completely stink up the place, either.

Caller’s Interlude – The instrumental from Redman’s “Tonight’s Da Night” plays, while Cherry Martinez takes a few phone calls from people to give their shoutouts live on the radio, which includes calls from a chick named Debbie, an angry dude going by Mr. “I don’t wanna hear it” (whose upset about the amount of cursing being played on the radio…Cherry’s response to the grumpy chump was pretty comical), Redman and the captain of the ship, Erick Sermon. This interlude ends with Cherry introducing the next song…

I Feel It – As Cherry mentions on the previous interlude, you might remember LOD (an acronym for Legion of Doom) from their cameo on their mentor, Keith Murray’s debut album (see “Take It To The Streetz” from his The Most Beautifulest Thing In This World album). Ron Jay and 50 Grand get a chance to shine on their own record this time around, but they squander the opportunity, sounding like little Keith Murray wannabees with subpar bars. E-Double must have not been feeling them either, since he gives them one of his generic stock funk instrumentals to fumble and stumble over.

On The Regular – This one features E’s little sister, Big Kim (who spit a verse on the “In The Studio” skit on Double Or Nothing) and her partner, T-Man, collectively known simply as, Duo. E hooks up a solid funk bop for Kim and T to get loose on and they spit acceptable bars over it. I wasn’t blown away by this record, but it’s decent enough to make me interested in hearing more from Duo.

Fear – Straight out the west coast, Tommy Gunn gets a chance to rep for Los Angeles. E blesses Tommy with a monster muffled and muddy funk groove mixed with the perfect subtle splash of sturdy horns, that he uses to talk about murder, guns, weed, Hennessy and fear. Tommy’s rhymes are decent, but E’s bangin’ backdrop steals all the attention. Sadly, Tommy Gunn would pass away before Insomnia was released, as E dedicates the album to his memory in the liner notes. This song is followed by one last Cherry Martinez skit that introduces the next song…

Ready For War – E serves up what might be his shittiest instrumental of all time, which is perfect for his featured guest, Domo, who sounds like a less-talented Jamal and spits shitty bars to match it.

Reign – Fittingly, the last song of the night features The Green-eyed Bandit going dolo, spitting sharp bars over a funked-out soulful instrumental. I’d be willing to bet that Quincy Jones’ “The Dude” is one of E’s favorite records, as he once again sings a portion of it at the end of this song (the first time we heard him sang it was at the beginning of “In The Heat” from Double Or Nothing). Nevertheless, this record is hot and makes for a great ending to Insomnia.

I’ll admit, through the years I’ve been critical of Erick Sermon’s solo musical output. Most of my complaints comes from his seemingly overabundance of uninspired funk instrumentals that lack the heart and soul of the production he and Parrish Smith cooked up together as EPMD. Slowly but surely, E-Double is changing my perception. As I mentioned at the top of this post, Double Or Nothing was decent, but much better than his dismal debut album, No Pressure. E-Double out does both of those projects with Insomnia.

With his focus mainly on production, Erick (along with a few assists) is able to craft a balanced batch of smooth, hard and rugged instrumentals with a funk backbone, and only misses on two of Insomnia’s eleven tracks. While the production on Insomnia strives, the emceeing struggles to stay afloat. E-Double, Redman, Keith Murray and Passion all pull their individual lyrical weight, but the rest of E’s guests offer up performances that range from decent to downright horrible. Even with the overall middling output from his guests, Insomnia is still a solid album that’s given me a restored faith in Erick Sermon’s solo career. Fingers crossed.


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Chino XL – Here To Save You All (April 9, 1996)

Chino XL is a Bronx born, New Jersey bred emcee, known for his provocative punchlines and metaphors. He started his rap career in the early nineties as one half of the duo, Art Of Origin, which consisted of himself and his partner/producer, Kaoz. The group would sign to Rick Rubin’s label, Def American Recordings (later changed to American Recordings) but would wind up disbanding before things ever really got started. Even though the group was finito, Rick Rubin was still interested in Chino, which would lead to Rubin giving Chino a shot as a solo artist. In 1996, Chino would release his debut solo album, Here To Save You All, that I’ll simply refer to as HTSYA for the rest of this post, because that’s just too many damn characters to keep typing repeatedly.

Chino would rely on B Wiz (rip) to produce most of HTSYA, with a few other hands handling a few loosies on the album as well. HTSYA wasn’t a commercial success, but it did produce a number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Billboard Charts (more on that later) and receive positive reviews from most of the critics. HTSYA would be the only album Chino would release on the American Recordings imprint, and it would be another five years before he would release another album.

On the outside of the cd jewel case of HTSYA, there’s a sticker with a quote from The Source that reads: “Despite the controversial overtones of many rappers, few have had the potential to shake up both the rap industry and society in general. Chino XL has that potential.” Needless to say, he didn’t live up to that hype. But nevertheless, lets walk through the album together, shall we?

Here To Save You All – The album opens with paranormal musical vibes and aggressive drums that Rosalin “Wild Child” Harris uses as the canvas to share a spoken word poem, introducing the world to Chino and the album.

Deliver – B Wiz slides Chino a dope James Bond dipped backdrop, as our host commences to entertain with “shock jock” metaphors, showing mercy to absolutely no one. Eazy E, Daryl Strawberry, Larry Holmes, Ice Cube, Dru Down, Craig Mack, Miles Davis, Will Smith (speaking of Will Smith, do you think he would have smacked the shit out of Chino if he made the same joke that Chris Rock made at the Oscars? I highly doubt it, but if he did, Chino definitely would have responded differently than Chris did), Everlast, Sister Souljah, Russell Simmons, and the entire Jackson Family, all catch a shot at the expensive of Chino’s punchlines on this opening track (my personal favorite line is when Chino says he’s “fuckin’ up lives like teenage pregnancy” …. hi-larious!). Chino’s energetic flow and humorous rhymes sound great over this potent instrumental, which makes for a great opening track.

No Complex – Chino picks up where he left off at on the previous track, with lines like “You blew up like Rosanne’s belly, your style’s too old to do me like Aaliyah and R. Kelly” (Who would have known twenty-five years later Robert would be locked up for his underage antics? Time is truly, illmatic) and “The whole games like Richie Valens, it should never take flight”. But the crowning punchline of this song: “My company is fuckin’ me, like Arsenio does Eddie Murphy”. Wow. Like the previous song, Chino’s punchlines will grab your attention and entertain, but this instrumental is a bit underwhelming.

Partner To Swing – Over a subpar instrumental, Chino’s up to the same antics as the previous two songs. The Adam Walsh line was super inappropriate, though.

It’s All Bad – After a short snippet from the legendary Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show plays, B Wiz’ mid-tempo bop (built around elements of Marvin Gaye’s “After The Dance (Instrumental)”) drops and Chino shares a few of the curveballs life’s thrown his way (including a failed movie and the tragic loss of his infant daughter), leaving him depressed and struggling to stay optimistic about life. Even in the mist of his dark and gloomy content, Chino manages to slip in a little comic relief, with lines like “Surrounded by more white girls than a Rakim video” (if that line is over your head, go check out the “Don’t Sweat The Technique” video and you’ll immediately start laughing out loud). He also makes a small lyrical blunder when he spits “I can’t get no, no satisfaction, like being blind and watching a movie with no closed caption”, because obviously, closed caption would serve no purpose to a blind person, but whatever. It was nice to hear Chino temporarily, get away from his shock jock rhymes and show some vulnerability while sharing his story and misfortune. But why did TJ Swan have to catch a shot, though?

Freestyle Rhymes – See “Partner To Swing”, but remove Adam Walsh and add Len Bias, Christopher Reeves and Gloria Estefan to the “super inappropriate” list.

Riiiot! – Ras Kass stops by and joins Chino for this duet, as the duo exchange quick witted bars like two wordsmiths sparring over the dark and haunting production. Chino’s “I’m trying not to get fucked like 2pac in jail” line would be the one that earned him a “fuck you” on 2pac’s infamous east coast diss record, “Hit ‘Em Up”, but that bar is light compared to a few of his other lines, where he takes callous digs at the murder of Michael Jordan’s father and Oprah Winfred being molested as a child. At least Ras Kass keeps things classy, as he slightly out rhymes his host and gets off the strongest bars on this record: “Once the secret within my esophagus, is discovered like Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, I got niggas looking for Webster’s like George Papadopolis.” Shoutout to Emmanuel Lewis. Despite a few tasteless and cringe worthy bars from Chino, I enjoyed the wordplay and chemistry between these two talented emcees. With a stronger instrumental backing them, this could have been epic.

Waiting To Exhale – Chino is joined by the duo, Gravitation on this one, as the three take turns punching on Wiz’s gully production with lukewarm results.

What Am I? – Chino uses this one to talk about coming up as light skin Black Puerto Rican kid and all the ridicule he faced from White kids for being too dark, and Black kids for being too light. It’s ironic that the least empathetic human on earth would pen a song looking for empathy from the listener, but whatever. Chino’s content is cool, and the airy production scheme grows on me the more I listen to this record.

Feelin’ Evil Again – Chino spits decent bars on this one, but Wiz’s instrumental leaves a lot to be desired. There is a Phife vocal snippet imbedded in the hook, so at least I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Thousands – DJ Homicide hooks up a creamy smooth backdrop for Chino to discuss the never-ending pursuit of the dollar bill by any means necessary and outlines a few different schemes people use to get it. Chino’s rhymes were solid, but the instrumental is the true star of this one.

Kreep – This was the Billboard number one that I mentioned in the intro and the only song from HTSYA that I remember from back in the day. Eric Romero creates a beautifully melancholic canvas for Chino to pour out his heart and soul about a love lost, borrowing the hook from Radiohead’s song of the same name (but spelled “Creep”) for the refrain. Chino waxes poetic, expressing a full gamut of emotions after losing the lady that he thought he would spend the rest of his life with, and now that she’s moved on, he’s sad, angry, depressed, suicidal, and apparently, homicidal: “In my arena, should I fight or just leave her, catch amnesia, it’s enough to make me catch a seizure, catch a breather, Chino, do you even need her? Should I take the three-eighty, assassinate her like Selena?” The Selena reference seems a bit too soon, considering she was killed the year prior to this record coming out, but would you expect anything less from Chino? Regardless, this song is brilliant. Easily the best song on the album and possibly the magnus opus of Chino’s career.

Many Different Ways – Chubb Rock, Heavy D, Bone Thugs, Greg Louganis and Arthur Ash are amongst the innocent bystanders who catch strays from Chino’s verbal firearm on this one. Speaking of strays, he also takes another shot at Pac (“Not number five, like caps bust inside of 2pac’s side”) and gets off two of my personal favorite Chino bars: “You got your contract now you dissin’ me, when you barely on yourself like the Evans family’s electricity” and “Be a man like Me’Shell Ndegeocello, receive your ass beating, I perform in front of more sellout crowds than a NAACP meeting”. The instrumental sounds like shit, but Chino raps his ass off on this one.

The Shabba-Doo Conspiracy – Speaking of shitty instrumentals, this one sounds like the internal noise I imagine your stomach makes when it’s digesting your last meal and getting ready to push it out your ass. Chino does what he can with it, but Kool Keith (who by this point in his career was overly abstract) matches the backdrop in shittiness. And what the hell is a Shabba-Doo Conspiracy?

Ghetto Vampire – This one begins with a short prelude that has a female criticizing Chino for “taking these metaphors and just butchering icons in the urban community.” Then sinister chords come in and Chino explains how he used to sit at the right hand of God in heaven before his jealously and envy of God got him kicked out and vanished to earth to dwell as a vampire. During the next couple of verses, the song goes from Chino sharing his own dastardly deeds as a vampire to pointing the finger at other entities of society that suck the blood out of the masses (like churches, crooked cops, media and drug dealers). Props to Chino for the unique idea, but it’s way too late in the album’s sequencing to have to sort through all the intricate details of this storyline; and all the music changes along the way didn’t help matters, either.

Rise – I have no idea what Chino is talking about on this song, but I enjoyed the tribal-like drums in Dan Charnas’ instrumental.

My Hero – And just when you thought Chino couldn’t get more despicable, he ends HTSYA with a hidden track that would make Felonious Gru’s bald head turn red. Snippets of Nicole Simpson’s 911 calls and audio from the O.J. trial play, while a laugh track and Chino crack up, making jokes about Simpson’s murder. It’s a little uncomfortable to listen to, but a fitting ending to all the controversial content he’s spit throughout the album.

Let me start by saying, Chino XL is going to hell with a golden ticket. Even though the rhymes on this album are over twenty-five years old, I don’t believe there is a repentance available for some of the cold, callous and heartless shit that he spews on Here To Save You All. With that said, Chino’s a very talented emcee, who proves a few times on HTSYA that he doesn’t need to rely on provocative metaphors to entertain (see “It’s All Bad”, “Thousands” and “Kreep”). But let’s be brutally honest. A lot of his shit is hi-lariously entertaining and will leave you feeling guilty for finding it amusing. On “A Partner To Swing”, Chino professes he doesn’t “write punchlines”, he “writes punch rhymes” and he walks what he talks throughout HTSYA, consistently landing lyrical haymakers to the chin of all your favorite pop-culture icons. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t pack the same punch as Chino’s bars and misses way more than it hits; and the seventeen-track length is way too long, as Chino’s antics on the mic start to sound redundant the longer the show goes on. HTSYA is a decent album from a dynamic emcee, but it’s far from a heroic effort.


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Bahamadia – Kollage (April 2, 1996)

The first time I ever heard the Philadelphia bred emcee, Bahamadia spit was on Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol 2 project, and her work over the Ramsey Lewis assisted jazz mash up (see “Respect The Architect”) was impressive. But prior to her meeting Guru (rip) she was recording and releasing records independently, making a name for herself back in Philly. In fact, it was her independent work that put her on Guru’s radar in the first place. Her relationship with Guru would lead to her signing to Chrysalis/EMI (which at the time was also the label home to Gang Starr), where she would release her debut album, Kollage.

Bahamadia would call on her mentor, Guru, to produce a few tracks on Kollage, as well as DJ Premier, Da Beatminerz, The Roots, Ski Beats and N.O. Joe. Kollage would reach thirteen on the Billboard US R&B Charts, but despite the decent charting results and positive reviews, the album didn’t do well commercially and would be the only album Bahamadia would release on Chrysalis/EMI. It would be another four years before Bahamadia would resurface and release another album.

Moment of randomness: I recently came across an article about The Top Ten Riches Female Rappers in the World. To no surprise, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot were the top earners on the list, but I was completely caught off guard to see Bahamadia’s name at number four on the list, with a whopping net worth of thirty-two million dollars. Wtf? I don’t know if the list is cap, but if it’s not, I see you, B!

IntroKollage begins with a male voice repeatedly screaming our hostess’ name while a beautifully blunted Premo constructed groove plays underneath it, mentally transporting me to a tropical island for its full fifty second duration.

WordPlay – Guru lays down a deliciously bouncy bass line with splashes of sexy jazz horns and a slick Jeru Da Damaja vocal snippet on the hook that Bahamadia uses to showcase her skills and warm up for the evening. B’s unique vocal tone sounds great over Guru’s backdrop.

Spontaneity – Da Beatminerz are responsible for the ruggedly beautiful sound clash that makes up this instrumental, as Bahamadia uses it to get loose with her lyrics “like a double-jointed limb”. The hook is kind of awkward (what exactly is “mad explosive spontaneity” and why is she whispering it?), but regardless the song is still dope.

Rugged Ruff – Premo slides B a rugged jazzy mashup that lives up to the song title, while Bahamadia adapts a meticulous rapid fire off beat flow, leaving the instrumental riddled with holes. This was fire.

Interlude – Mystical music plays while Guru drops in to share a few words of wisdom and shoutout his protege and her album.

I Confess– This is a fly love song. Bahamadia basically talks her way through this one, as she poetically expresses to the man of her dreams that she’s the “chick” he “should be celebrating life with”, while her girl X-Cetra, assists by singing a little Marvin Gaye on the hook. B also mentions “Electric Relaxation” in a line, so I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for yet another post. N.O. Joe’s responsible for the smooth synth vibes, but Preston “P-Funk” Middleton’s infectious bass guitar licks are the heart and soul of this soothing funk groove.

UKNOWHOWWEDU – Ski gets his sole production credit of the night (with a co-credit going to Redhanded) and makes it count, as he slides Bahamadia a melodically airy bop (that kind of reminds me of The Roots “Swept Away” from their Do You Want More?!!!??! album, mainly because of the harmony imbedded in the music) that she uses to “represent her people on the Illadelph side”, shouting out everybody from Lady B, Da Youngsta’s, The Roots, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, hell, Charlie Mack even gets a shout. This is one of my personal favorites on Kollage, and it sounds just as fresh today as it did twenty-five plus years ago.

Interlude – Da Beatminerz hook up a cool after-hours lounge spot instrumental to begin the second half of Kollage.

Total Wreck – Bahamadia once said in an interview that this was the first song that she recorded for Kollage. Over a muddy instrumental stained with jazzy horns, Bahamadia does just what the song title suggest, delivering her bars in a vocal tone that sounds more aggressive than what we’re accustomed to hearing from her, but I welcome it. The instrumental is drenched in Da Beatminerz swag, so I was super surprised to read the liner notes and find that Guru produced this one. Well done, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.

Innovation – Speaking of Da Beatminerz, they are responsible for this boring backdrop that sounds like the perfect backing music for watching paint dry. Bahamadia does the best she can with it (the “Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone” line was semi-corny), but this ends up being the first dud of the night.

Da Jawn – Our hostess is joined by The Roots emcees and fellow Illadelphians, Black Thought and Malik B (rip) on the one. All three emcees get off quick verses over a Roots produced instrumental that makes me envision floating through space. Aimlessly and endlessly. Black Thought (who was not quite yet the chiseled rhyme animal that he would soon become), Bahamadia and Malik all get off average at best verses, and the sleepy production work backing them (which sounds like a throw away track from The Roots’ Illadelph Halflife sessions) makes me lose complete interest in this record.

Interlude – Da Beatminerz concoct another jazzy instrumental for this interlude that sounds much more lively and happier than their traditional muddy production sound, but I liked it.

True Honey Buns (Dat Freak Shit) – This was the third single released from Kollage. Premo provides some laidback vibrant boom bap for Bahamadia to share a story about a night out on the town with her home girl, Kia, who starts acting a little too “hoeish” for her more conservative friend’s liking: “Cause Kia went berserk, diggy low at first, subtle body language acting like a flirt, tongue stickin’ out, with the baby doll pout, talkin’ all loud, I’m like what’s this all about? Slipped out her sarong, started dancin’ in her thong, like a bootie song was on, I said sis, you know you wrong, see you the reason nigs be screamin’ bitches, hoes and tricks, can’t believe you going out on that Adina Howard shit”. It was kind of funny to hear Bahamadia spend most of the final verse rebuking her friend’s behavior and then close it out with “I’m not the one to judge”. Great record that has held up well through the years.

3 Tha Hard Way – B invites two of her home girls (K-Swift and Mecca Starr) to join her on the mic, as the three represent for the ladies, spittin’ bars over a raw Premo beat. Dope.

Biggest Part Of Me – Bahamadia dedicates this one to her son, who is currently making a name for himself as a women’s fashion designer (Google Mah-Jing Wah). N.O. Joe gets his second production credit of the night, providing the tender backdrop that sounds tailor fit for B’s heartfelt rhymes.

The European CD version of Kollage comes with a bonus track called “Path To Rhythm” featuring Ursula Rucker. But fret not my dear Bahamadia Stan’s who don’t own that version of Kollage (then again, if you’re a real Bahamadia Stan, you probably spent the extra bread to cop the European version), it’s also available to stream on your favorite DSP, and it’s a pretty solid record.

Bahamadia is an artist that I would definitely prefer to listen to on record rather than see perform live. It’s not because I don’t think she could rock a live show, but I don’t feel the acoustics of a live show would properly capture the unique warmth and hypnotic texture of her vocal tone that almost sounds like an instrument on wax. Her instrument is on full display throughout Kollage, as she sprinkles her quality bars through various flows over well-crafted instrumentals from some of hip-hop’s elite producers. The first half of Kollage starts off strong, before slowing down a little at the beginning of the second half, but it quickly picks up steam and finishes strong. Even with a few blemishes, Kollage is still a great debut from an overlooked emcee who’s mothered a few daughters in this here rap game. 


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Nonchalant – Until The Day (March 26, 1996)

Nonchalant was an emcee from Washington D.C. who came on the scene in the mid-nineties and made her mark with her socially conscious gold selling debut single, “5 O’Clock”. The chart-topping single will always define her rap career, and she still rests her laurels on it, which is evident if you check out her Instagram page, as her heading reads: “We met @ 5 O’Clock In the morning in ‘96. Certified gold record selling artist.” Nearly two months after releasing “5 O’Clock”, Nonchalant would release her debut album, Until The Day on MCA Records in March of 1996.

Nonchalant would call on the relatively unknown production team of B.L.A.K. Production aka Trax by B.L.A.K. (comprised of DeWayne “Bam” Staten Sr, Alonzo “Lonnie” Simmons, Jr. and Kapin L. Ferguson, Jr.) to sculpt most of the sound of Until The Day, with a few other hands involved, including a couple of credits going to the late Chucky Thompson, who was part of the Bad Boy Hitmen Production crew. Unfortunately, Until The Day didn’t match the commercial success of “5 O’Clock”, and after a few changes in management at MCA, Nonchalant would get lost in the shuffle before ever getting a chance to record and release a second album. She would eventually ask to be released from her deal with the label and go on to record a few songs for a couple different soundtracks (her Pete Rock produced record with MC Lyte, Bahamadia and Yo-Yo on the Dangerous Ground Soundtrack is dope), but would soon find herself out of the game and back to working a 9 to 5, cutting and packaging meat at a D.C. grocery store.

Speaking of packaging, MCA definitely put money into the packaging of Until The Day, as the CD format comes with an elaborate six-page insert, complete with quality photos of Nonchalant (who vaguely resembles Ashanti) in a few different outfit changes. Hopefully, the music matches the quality of the packaging.

Intro – The evening starts with a chilled, slightly dark instrumental and one of Nonchalant’s mans introducing her to the listening audience. I appreciate the enthusiasm he shows for his girl’s art, but he gets a little carried away when he refers to her as “a legend” after releasing just one hit single.

It’s All Love – The first song of the night features a breezy Chucky Thompson produced instrumental that sounds built for “insert female r&b singer’s name here.” Instead of singing over it, Nonchalant raps to and about a guy that she’s feeling, but apparently, he’s sending her mixed signals. This was an interesting way to follow up all the hype that Nonchalant’s man gave her on the intro, but it was still cool. Mainly due to CT’s pretty soundscape.

Crab Rappers – Nonchalant’s in battle mode on this one, looking to take out all wack emcees aka crab rappers, not to be confused with crab apples. The B.L.A.K. Production team hooks up a silky smooth synth instrumental, punctuated by a doom pending bass line, as our hostess commences to be the “hot sauce” to your “chicken”, while she “kicks a funky flow like a bowl of raw chitlins”; and I’m curious who the bar “Smilin’, while you’re robbin’ me for my stylin’, you need to stop before you find your grave on Long Island” was aimed at (hmmm…). Nonchalant’s battle bars are decent enough, though I’m sure L-Boogie nor Latifah were shaking in their boots after hearing this.

5 O’Clock – As I mentioned in the opening of this post, this was the album’s lead single and the biggest hit in Nonchalant’s limited catalog. Chalant uses the darkish backdrop, which is carried by a dense and bleak bass line that sounds very similar to the bass line used on “Crab Rappers”, to plead with the Black man to stop killing each other and the Black community through selling drugs. A couple of dudes (which the liner notes credit to Raguel “Bink” Dill and Andre “Smoovy” Harrison) rebuttal Chalant’s plea, explaining why they play in the ghetto streets, before she closes out the song with one more verse calling for the end of this genocide mission. The hook is both corny and catchy, Nonchalant’s message is honorable, and this record has held up pretty well over the past twenty-six years.

Lookin’ Good To Me – Nonchalant dedicates this one to a “sexy brown brotha” (her words, not mine) that’s got her wide open. So much so that she’s calling his name in her sleep and she’s “memorized the tag number on his jeep”, which sounds a little stalkerish, but no judgment. She lets him know during the second verse: “I don’t wanna press, but I must confess, that it won’t take long before the lifting of the dress”, and she’s even okay with him having kids, as long as the baby mama isn’t still trying to be with him, bringing unwanted drama into her life (the adlib of Nonchalant calling this baby mama, that she’s not even sure exist, a “dumb ass bitch” is hi-larious). Chalant’s cadence, delivery and bars kind of sound like Da Brat back when she was pretending to be into men, but the flow works well with this funky instrumental.

Kickin’ It With Non – Nonchalant and her homeboy chop it up on this short and useless interlude.

Have A Good Time – Our hostess is in party mode on this one, ready to hit the streets with her peeps and have some fun running through the club scene on the weekend. The mellow vibes of the music kind of contradict the party mood Chalant describes in her rhymes, but I enjoyed it; especially when the creamy piano loop comes in.

Lights N’ Sirens – Nonchalant dedicates this one to all the racist and crooked cops that she’s personally encountered and that unjustly harass and brutalize the Black community. For some reason, Chalant decides to rap her bars in a whisper of a voice, as if the po-po were in the next room when she was laying down her rhymes for this song. The jazz piano led quiet storm instrumental, which I liked, was an odd choice to back her content, but this was still a decent record.

Non Interlude – A manufactured laidback jazzy instrumental plays while some uncredited singers softly tell the listener to “relax your mind”, and the soothing music makes that request easy to follow.

Until The Day – The title track is built around a scrumptious semi-bluesy Chucky Thompson instrumental that finds Chalant and her guest, Quasim Baptiste discussing this struggle called life and walking in your destiny…I think. Chalant’s rhymes get a little hard to follow on this one. Chalant invites a couple of guests (George Franklin Jackson III and Michelle Blackwell) to sing the hook (built around a portion of Stevie Wonder’s record “As”) and punctuate this somber groove.

Mr. Good Stuff – Nonchalant pretty much picks up where she left off at on “Lookin’ Good To Me”. This time around she’s lusting for the Ving Rhames type: “bald head, strong back and not a weak mind.” I wasn’t crazy about this one, but I’m sure I wasn’t her target demographic, either. She does reference A Tribe Called Quest song (see the first verse: “In the back of my mind I’m thinkin’ sex on a platter”), so at least I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Thank You – Over an earnest and airy backdrop (credited to a Mark Murray, with a co-production credit going to Leonardo Pettis, who adds a few adlibs to the track as well) our hostess raps and sings praise to her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, without ever saying his name. Nonchalant’s singing on the hook was both solid and catchy, plus I don’t think I’ll ever dislike a song that gives thanks to God.

Outro – Nonchalant and company bring back the instrumental from the “Non Interlude”, putting the finishing touches on Until The Day.

Nonchalant’s name may never be mentioned amongst the top tier of female emcees (and it probably shouldn’t be), but make no mistake about it, the girl could rap. No, she won’t hit you over the head with mesmerizing lyrics or get your hormones racing with over-the-top sexual content, but on Until The Day she delivers competent bars, playing her role as an even balanced everyday Jane, tackling social issues, love, lust, inspiration and occasionally, she brags and boasts on some true emcee shit. Nonchalant’s proficient rhymes are backed by a pristine batch of synthesized instrumentals that mostly sound nice behind her flow. Until The Day is not flawless nor a classic, but it’s a solid enough debut to have justified a follow up album. Then again, maybe she was just too nonchalant for this industry.


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Busta Rhymes – The Coming (March 26, 1996)

After releasing two mediocre albums, The Leaders of the New School decided to call it quits and go their separate ways in 1994. At the tail end of the LONS run, Busta Rhymes started to emerge as the breakout star of the group (rumor has it that his rising stardom was causing conflict in the group and had a lot to do with why LONS broke up), which was jump started by his hyper-energetic cameo on A Tribe Called Quest’s classic LONS collab record, “Scenario” (I could use my Tribe Degrees of Separation here, but I’ll get it in a little later in this write-up). That memorable performance would be the beginning of Busta becoming, arguably, the biggest cameo whore in hip-hop history, and more importantly, lead to the start of his solo career, as he would release his debut solo album, The Coming in 1996 on Elektra Records.

Like Pac’s All Eyez On Me, The Coming was also a highly anticipated blockbuster level release. Busta would call on the likes of DJ Scratch, Easy Moe Bee, Q-Tip and J-Dilla to sonically shape the album and call on a few of his family and friends to contribute cameos to the album as well. The Coming would go on to receive positive reviews from critics and become a commercial success as well, earning Busta his first gold plaque that would turn platinum a few years later.

It’s been years since I listened to The Coming, so let’s see if it lives up to the blockbuster hype it originally came with.

The Coming (Intro) – The album opens with eerie chords playing softly as Lord Have Mercy, who has a great storytelling voice, gives a quick Busta Rhymes bio (I wonder why he chose to omit the year he was born) and shares Busta’s overall mission in this here rap game: “To bring the ruckus to all you muthafuckas!” This portion of the “Intro” is followed by epic movie like music and Rampage screaming as he hypes up Busta and the album. The music switches yet again, to a more subdued mid-tempo backdrop, as Rampage continues to clear the way for Busta, who finally makes his grand entrance and shares a few words once the music ends. Then one final music change takes place, and Busta dedicates this portion to all the “niggas that keep falling”, as a clever ODB vocal snippet plays behind him, emulating the sound of a man screaming as he falls from extremely high heights to his death, which I found amusing (yes, my sense of humor is a bit twisted). This concludes the extended and extremely busy “Intro” to The Coming.

Do My Thing – Now that we got all the dramatic opening formalities out of the way, we can get into the music. The first real song of the night features a simple DJ Scratch backdrop and Busta Rhymes on the mic, um, doing his thing. Busta wilds out on this one, threatening to bend wack emcees frames like plexiglass, go “King-Kong on niggas like guerrilla monsoon”, and my personal favorite threat: “I will endanger your species like an ostrich, hold you hostage, and crazy feed you swine sausage”. Were ostriches really considered endangered species in 1996? Regardless, it makes for an hi-larious bar. After the epic intro I was expecting Busta to follow it up with a track with a little more energy, but at least Busta gives the record a jolt with his vibrant voice and animated flow. If you’re listening to The Coming on tape, vinyl or cd, this track ends with a short interlude that finds Busta whipping (when I say whipping, I mean literally with a whip) the dog shit out a dude for: a) talking shit b) biting muthafuckin’ rhymes c) fakin’ jacks and d) frontin’ on his crew. For one reason or another, this skit was removed from the DSP versions of The Coming. But if you are streaming the album, fret not, you’re not missing much.

Everything Remains Raw – Now this is the record Busta should have followed up his epic intro with. Easy Moe Bee gets his first of two production credits with this aggressively raw backdrop that Busta matches in energy every step of the way. A lot of the bars that Busta spits on this track were previously used on his Funkmaster Flex 60 Minutes Of Funk Mixtape freestyle, but they still entertain, along with Moe Bee’s tasty instrumental. And remember: “There’s only 5 years left!” Oh wait…this was released over twenty-five years ago. The math just doesn’t add up.

Abandon Ship – Busta keeps the good times rollin’ and the energy high, as he’s joined by his cousin, Rampage on this one. The duo passes the mic, and the Red Bull, back and forth, dismantling this frantic Busta-produced instrumental with controlled hysteria and strong bars. Other than the slight mishap with the stuttering drum beat during Rampage’s second go, and the three Rampage censored lines, this was an incredible rollercoaster ride of a record.

Woo Hah! Got You All In Check – This track starts with (or the last track ends with) the original record playing that Busta and Rashad Smith would build this loony monster of an instrumental around for the album’s lead single. Busta builds the hook around a line from an old Sugar Hill Gang song (“8th Wonder”) and floods his verses with complete lunacy and insanity, but still delivers humorously solid bars, destroying the track like Godzilla. This is an undisputed classic record that sounds just as fun today as it did twenty-five plus years ago.

It’s A Party – This was the second single released from The Coming. Easy Moe Bee conjures up a creamy instrumental, dripping with feel good vibes, as Busta and Zhane seek to set the mood for a night full of partying and debauchery. The verses and hook are chock-full of generic lines and cliches, but Zhane’s vocals sound so delicious over Moe Bee’s melodic groove, you’ll overlook that minor shortcoming. The song is followed by Busta spittin’ a quick throw away verse (most of the verse is Busta adlibbing) over a semi-decent beat. This verse was also removed from the DSP versions of The Coming, which I’m sure had everything to due to Busta’s multiple shoutouts to Saddam Hussein, who he refers to as his “nigga”.

Hot Fudge – Now here’s a record that I completely forgot about. Backspin is credited with this dark jazz textured backdrop that finds Busta calming down just enough to sound sinister and slightly scary as he gets his shit off: “Ayo, I’m in this to win this, gets down to handle my business, while I be Busta Rhymes you still be…whoever your NAME IS! In my past life the world felt my mega blast, now in my present life Imma still BUST YOUR FUCKIN’ ASS!” Busta skatting on the soulfully creepy organ loop on the hook and repeatedly screaming “numerals of funerals everyday” as the song ends are the cherries on top of this hot fudge sundae (*rimshot*). This song is followed by an odd and random skit about a Jamaican woman getting sixty-eight from some naive chump, with no intentions of paying him back the one she owes him.

Ill Vibe – Busta invites his Native Tongue bredrin, Q-Tip to join him on this duet (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), as they each get off a verse over a spaciously quirky but irresistible instrumental (credited to Q-Tip under The Ummah umbrella, which was the production collective of Q-Tip, Jay-Dee and Ali Shaheed Muhammad). Busta spits a wild tale about “getting caught up ‘em them freaky gold digger jamborees”, while Tip keeps it cerebral and drops off a few gems and plenty of food for thought. The duo’s verses couldn’t contrast more yet mesh well and sound great together over the mellow backdrop.

Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad – In this corner representing the Def Squad, we have Jamal, Redman and Keith Murray. And representing the Flipmode Squad: Rampage, Lord Have Mercy (I wonder what happened to him) and Busta Rhymes. Backspin provides a gully backdrop, as all six emcees square up, with no hooks or gimmicks, and represent for their respective crews. I know it’s not a battle, but everything in hip-hop is a battle, and I’m easily giving this one to the Def Squad. Who you got? Hit me in the comments.

Still Shining – J-Dilla (on behalf of The Ummah) serves up an airy melodic canvas that Busta dedicates to all his “baby dragons” biting his style. Wait. If Busta has baby dragons, does that make Daenerys Stormborn his baby mama? If so, not a bad choice to procreate with, but I digress. Dilla’s instrumental sounds a little empty, but the more I listen to it, the more it grows on me.

Keep It Movin’ – It’s only right that Busta reaches back and gives his Leaders Of The New School brothers a chance to shine. Dilla gets his second and last production credit of the evening, sliding LONS a dark and rugged instrumental to reunite and rhyme over. The song is decent, but also a clear reminder of why LONS was always my least favorite group in The Native Tongue collective. This one ends with a skit to set up the next song…

The Finish Line – Busta uses Scratch’s bluesy bop to talk about a shiesty brother’s trife ways, which he explains will soon lead to his demise. It’s not the strongest song of the night, but it does show a more serious side to our host.

The End Of The World (Outro) – Busta brings back one of the beats from the “Intro” and uses it to show gratitude to his supporting fans and offers up a few parting words about using your time wisely. This is followed by a short skit of a man, who’s apparently on his death bed full of regret for not using his time wisely and accomplishing all things he wanted out of life. Then, in true dramatic movie fashion, the man slips into death, travels through the “dark tunnel”, where he meets Judgment Day like trumpets, then a portion of the medieval classic “O Fortuna” plays, while a distorted devilish voice laughs, which suggests that the regretful man went to hell, putting a super dark ending on what was mostly a light-hearted listen.

The Coming doesn’t live up to the epic intro and outro that its songs are sandwiched in between, which honestly, would be nearly impossible to do, but it does successfully accomplish the goal Lord Have Mercy mentions in the intro, and that is to: “Bring the ruckus to all you muthafuckas!!” Busta, who possess one of hip-hop’s greatest voices, grabs the listener’s attention from the jump and holds it throughout The Coming with his dynamic energy, spazzing on every track as he clowns around on some court jester shit, but just as quickly can get on some real emcee shit, impressing with his versatile flow and quality bars. The handful of producers involved on the production end of the album provide a sonically solid palette to support Busta’s “knucklehead flows”, as he either matches their energy or easily outshines them, making them sound doper than they really are. The Coming does come with a few scratches and dents, but overall, it’s an entertaining debut solo album from one of hip-hop’s most animated and colorful emcees. I don’t know if I would call The Coming a classic, but I wouldn’t argue with you if you do.


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Smoothe Da Hustler – Once Upon A Time In America (March 19, 1996)

Through the years, Brooklyn, New York has produced a slew of incredible emcees: Special Ed, Big Daddy Kane, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, AZ, Jeru Da Damaja, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Fabolous, Sean Price, and that’s just scratching the surface. All the names mentioned above were able to establish themselves in the game and cement their own legacies to varying degrees, but there were others that represented BK for only a moment, never fully able to lay a solid foundation and became mere footnotes in the annals of hip-hop. Like the subject of today’s post.

Damon Smith, better known to the world as Smoothe Da Hustler, came on the scene in the mid-nineties and got his first break when he hit the road with Biggie on his 1994 Ready To Die tour. Smoothe didn’t have a deal at the time, but the tour gave him exposure to a much wider audience than he had prior. He would continue to work independently, eventually hooking up with fellow Brownsville native and producer, D/R Period (known for his work with M.O.P. and being the maestro behind their monster record “Ante Up”) and recording tracks, including the hood classic, “Broken Language”, which would earn a spot on the once coveted Hip-Hop Quotable column in The Source. The Source plug and the regional buzz that “Broken Language” created caused the labels to come swarming and soon Smoothe would sign to Profile, where he would release his debut album, Once Upon A Time In America.

D/R Period would produce all but one of the album’s tracks, and though the project wasn’t a huge commercial success, it did receive positive reviews from the critics. Smoothe would eventually leave Profile and sign with Def Jam, where he would record a song for The Nutty Professor Soundtrack (“My Crew Can’t Go For That”) and pen songs for the likes of Public Enemy and Foxy Brown, but he would never release a proper follow-up to Once Upon A Time In America (he did release Violenttimes Day on his independent label, SMG Records in 2008, but a twelve-year hiatus doesn’t count as a proper follow up).

I didn’t listen to or buy Once Upon A Time In America when it came out in ‘96, but I stumbled upon a copy in the used cd bins for a dollar and bought it on the strength of “Broken Language”. So even if the rest of the album is trash, I’ll still get my money’s worth.

Once Upon A Time… – The album opens with cinematic music playing to set the scene for a horrible audio quality skit that’s supposed to play as a movie, introducing the listener to a young nappy headed Smoothe and how he was introduced to the drug game.

Fuck Watcha Heard – The song begins with a blaring horn loop and a few words from Smoothe’s younger brother, Trigger Tha Gambler, whose also responsible for reciting the song’s hook. D/R Period brings in a dusty piano loop that sounds like it’s getting bullied by the grimy bass line, but they both work well underneath Smoothe’s raspy voice and Brownsville thuggery. The track ends with a short snippet to set up the next song (FYI: All the album’s skits sound like they were recorded on a cheap old school tape recorder, so naturally, they sound terrible).

Dollar Bill – Smoothe invites D.V. Alias Christ (who’s alias might be an early contender for worst alias of the year) to join him on the mic, as the two take turns imagining life without the dollar bill. D.V. mixes his verses with singing and rhyming (he also sings the hook), while Smoothe sticks to a traditional rhyming pattern and comes off like a semi-automatic, leaving the track full of holes. D/R backs the duo’s bars with a hard boom bap backdrop built around a loop (or interpolation) from Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By”. Neither Smoothe or D.V. due a great job of staying on task and answering the question posed on the hook, but this still ends up being an entertaining listen with D/R’s bangin’ instrumental shining the brightest.

Glocks On Cock – This is the only track on Once Upon A Time that D/R Period is not credited with producing. Instead, Kenny Gee (not to be confused with the jazz saxophonist) serves up a gully instrumental that Smoothe uses to shoot niggas, sell drugs and talk his emcee shit over. Smoothe, whose voice is already raspy, reaches new levels of gravelly on this record, to the point I felt sorry for his esophagus and wanted to drink a glass of water on his behalf. The energy of the instrumental had me waiting for M.O.P. to pop up with a cameo, but the record is still decent despite their absence.

Broken Language – This is the grimy New York classic that will forever define Smoothe Da Hustler’s rap career. D/R creates a dark scrunch-face inducing backdrop, punctuated with a menacing bass line, that Smoothe and Trigger use to pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato, as they take turns listing all of the different occupations, roles and hats that they wear, which includes some pretty interesting, and uncomfortable to hear, titles (i.e., “the white girl gang banger, the Virgin Mary fucker, the Jesus hanger”). Brilliant record that sounds just as amazing today as it as it did when it first came out.

Speak My Peace – Smoothe shares a few words over dirge like chords before the next song comes in…

Neva Die Alone – Our host takes a stroll down memory lane, recalling the circumstances that made him turn to hustling in the streets, before using the final verse to focus on his new career as a rapper. D/R temporarily abandons his gutter boom-bap and cooks up a synthy jazzed-up bop that I thoroughly enjoyed. The track ends with a skit to set up the next song.

Food For Thoughts – Smoothe uses this cloudy and blunted backdrop to ask a series of rhetorical questions on the first two verses, then lists all the things he doesn’t want taken from him on the song’s final verse. Not a bad record, but Jadakiss’ “Why?” and Common and Mos Def’s “The Questions” we’re much better executed records with the same concept.

Family Conflicts – This short skit finds a hardheaded Smoothe getting some valuable advice from his mom, while Shirley Murdock’s classic “As We Lay” plays in the background. This bleeds into the next song…

Only Human – D/R takes another break away from his grimy soundscapes and offers up a tender groove that Smoothe uses to boast and reflect on his past decisions. Kovon comes through to sprinkle his soft vocals on the hook, putting the finishing touches on an obvious attempt at a crossover hit. The attempt might not have went as planned, but I still enjoyed the record.

Hustler’s Theme – D/R interpolates Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” for the backdrop and gives it a bit of a rock feel, while Kovon returns and does his best Curtis Mayfield impersonation on the hook. Smoothe matches the instrumental’s high energy, completely spazzing out, and spits a “ki flipping” bar that reminded me of Foxy Brown’s miscalculated “ki cut and flip “verse from Nas’ Affirmative Action” on It Was Written (considering Smoothe was ghostwriting for Foxy around this time, it’s very possible that he penned her “ki cut and flip” bar as well). Speaking of ki’s, this was dope.

Murdafest – Mediocre filler.

Hustlin’ – I know “Hustler” is part of Smoothe’s alias, but do we really need a song called “Hustler’s Theme” and “Hustlin’” that lyrically cover the same ground on the same album? Of course not, but the instrumental was pretty cool.

My Brother My Ace – Trigger returns for this one, as he and Smoothe tag team the mic one last time for the evening. The song title is corny, and the beat is bland, but I love Smoothe and Trigger’s chemistry on this one. I would have loved to hear a collab album from the Brothers Smith.

Dedication – Smoothe dedicates the first two verses of this song to all his haters and naysayers and then uses the final verse to pay respect to some of his peers and O.G.’s. D/R flips a S.O.S. Band record to create the smooth (no pun intended) instrumental that our host, tenaciously, picks apart with ease. Nice way to close out the evening.

After my first few listens to Once Upon A Time In America, I wasn’t crazy about the album. But after a few more listens it started to grow on me, and then a few more spins and I started to respect Smoothe Da Hustler’s emcee ability, and his gritty vocal tone begin to sound nice paired with D/R Period’s gutter brand of boom-bap. Smoothe’s content is redundant, a few of the instrumentals are lackluster and the lo-fi interludes do a poor job of tying the album’s flimsy theme together, but it’s still a solid debut from a competent emcee who unfortunately, never got a fair chance to prove himself in this genre we call hip-hop.


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Wise Intelligent – Killin U… For Fun (March 12, 1996)

Wise Intelligent is one of those underrated emcees who never makes your underrated emcee list. As the lead emcee and voice of the Trenton, New Jersey-based group, Poor Righteous Teachers, Wise’s rapid-fire flow was a key component behind four PRT albums (the last of which we’ll tackle in the very near future, and the other three you can read my thoughts on by clicking here, here and here), moderate commercial success and one of the greatest, and unsung, hip-hop songs of all-time in “Rock Dis Funky Joint”. Even with him being the main voice of PRT, Wise felt the need to branch off from the group for a dolo mission, as he would release his debut solo album, Killin’ U…For Fun in 1996.

Wise would call on long-time PRT collaborator, Tony D (rip) to handle most of Killin’ U’s production, while a few lesser-known names (6-19 and Abscure) would handle the rest. Apparently, there are two different album covers for Killin’ U. The cd copy that I own has the artwork that you see above, but the alternate cover is an old picture of a bunch of white men casually gathered around to watch a black body burn at the stake like it’s a football game on a Sunday afternoon; it makes for a much more chilling image than the angry Wise Intellegent in a wife-beater with locks and nappy edges that you see above. In the liner notes for Killin’ U, Wise gets super detailed with his shoutouts, listing a whole slew of rappers, crews, deejays and producers, and sometimes doubling up on his shoutouts (for instance, he shouts out Wu-Tang Clan and The Geto Boys, only later to list their names individually as well). But most importantly, A Tribe Called Quest gets a shoutout, so I can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for yet another post.

Killin’ U would go completely under the radar without receiving any real fanfare or praise. I didn’t even know the album existed to well over a decade after it was released, when I found it staring at me from the used cd bins at a local record store around my way. This review will by first time experiencing Killin’ U, so hopefully, it’s fun *rimshot*.

My SoundKillin’ U begins with a snippet of a women asking a white man if he’s afraid of black men, and his response is quite intriguing. Then an eerie bass line and horn loop play for a few measures before morphing into cool drums (I love the drum breakdown that comes in every eight bars) accompanied by a few smooth piano chords. Wise comes in harmonizing, as he boasts and brags about his fresh style, proclaiming that he’s “at the top of top ten” and “the wrong nigga to fuck with “on the mic. This opening track was a convincing testament to his ballsy claims. The song concludes with a clip taken from the 1975 movie, Mandingo, setting up the next song.

Shitty Inna City – Tony D builds this backdrop around the same piano loop Buckwild used for O.C.’s “Word…Life”, but while Buckwild’s flip of the loop sounded inspirational, Tony D’s has a somber quality to it. Wise uses the sad but pretty instrumental to discuss the state of affairs in the hood, rapping, singing and chanting his way through it (he also gets vulnerable and shares: “Fo’ albums out and still po’, just thought I’d let you know, not to ask me for shit”). The laidback jazzy sound that Wise has started the evening with was not what I expected to hear, but I’m damn sure enjoying it.

I’ll Never Kill Again – Now this is more like what I expected to hear going into Killin’ U. Someone going by the alias of 6-19, hooks up a rough reggae-flavored backdrop with a bangin’ bass line, and Wise sounds comfy and cozy as he seamlessly weaves in and out of standard rhyming patterns and chanting. Despite the song title, he completely murders this shit. I’m still trying to figure out if the Foxy Brown that rhymes on the second verse is the same Foxy Brown from Brooklyn that would soon emerge as part of Nas’ Firm clique, as the squeaky-voiced guest on this song sounds nothing like the husky-voiced Ill Na Na that we would come to know (If you know, hit me in the comments). Regardless, this song was fire, and shoutout to Wham!

Freestyle (A Conscious Lyric) – 6-19 gets his second consecutive and final production credit of the night, as he provides a funky bop for Wise to jump on and carve up with a mixture of sharp conscious bars and a little shit talk: “Swine ya feedin’, your children out there trick or treatin’, worshiping demons, following these Europeans, Christmas Treein’, Easter bunny basket weavin’, you Thanksgiving, the slaughter of the Indians, you ain’t seein’, the god within’ my state of being, and the dead spirits, the reason why you ain’t seein’”. Wise’s flow on this one reminds me of Treach’s, which made me curious if the two New Jersey emcees have ever worked together. I would definitely like to hear that collab.

Steady Slangin’ – Tony D continues to bless Wise with heat. This time he serves up a warm and buttery jazz-seasoned instrumental that Wise uses to slang his potent bars and entertaining flow for all hip-hop heads to get high on. Speaking of high, this was dope.

Black Juice – Wise slings his black juice all over this track (get your minds out the gutter, people), taking on wack emcees and White-owned companies that don’t appreciate the black dollar, like Timberland and Ralph Lauren. Tony D provides yet another dope jazzy instrumental that helps Wise’s black pride rhymes jump off the paper.

Name Brand Gunn – If you’re listening to Killin’ U on Apple Music, this song is hilariously titled, “Name Brand Gum”. But instead of rapping about Trident, Orbit or Wrigley’s, Wise goes into one of his dancehall-type chants to deliver this message about the hood’s obsession with guns and the government’s plot to keep the guns in black hands across America in hopes of successful black genocide. I appreciate Wise’s content, but a name brand beat would have helped it shine more than the generic one that Tony D provides for this record.

TV Shoom Pang – Am I hearing things or did Wise really start this song off by saying “Let me get my sniff on”? WTF? Maybe it’s slang for something else other than what I know it to be slang for, but I digress. Abscure drops a slow-rolling backdrop built around drunken piano chords, as Wise raps with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, effectively changing his flow up as often as a newborn’s diaper, killing emcees (seventeen on the first verse) and specifically calling out “three overrated emcees” (“two from New York, one deh pon Cali.” Hit me in the comments if you know who these “three overrated emcees” are that he’s referring to). I have no idea what “TV Shoom Pang” means, but I still enjoyed the song.

So Low – Wise talks more of his sophisticated black militant shit over Tony D’s pimp-stroll inducing instrumental that’s driven by a dense and lively bass line and a dope ODB sample on the hook. That’s all I got.

Rastafarian Girl – Our host uses this slightly drowsy (in a good way) instrumental to share his findings of the perfect black goddess: “She had the almond-shaped eyes, crescent fingernail tips, Ethiopian nose, sweet Israelite lips, her hair was locked, hundred percent pure wool, black as a raven and smelled like berry oil, the breastsess were like the ripest melons, and cold black nipples are highly suckable…strong thighs, ass I like, see, I know she rode a bike”. But not only does this goddess have a bangin’ body, she’s also conscious, cooks, reads books and listens to Bob Marley. I’m sold. This was nice, and I would love to see a video for this song; just so I could see the exquisite female specimen that Wise describes in the flesh. This song is followed by a quick snippet that sets up the next song.

Kingpins – Tony D slides Wise a serious and soulful groove that our host uses to discuss a small time drug dealer’s quest to become rich and puts the street hustler’s tiny fish operation into perspective compared to the big fish with the power who swim confidently in the enormous ocean of illegal drug trade that Wise alleges, includes members of the U.S. government (Wise refers to Bill Clinton as “King Clinton” on the hook, pointing to him as a major player in the illegal drug game), which in my opinion, isn’t farfetched. Well thought out content and a great instrumental to back it.

Send Fe Me Gunn – Instead of making “Kingpins” the pretty bow to nicely wrap up Killin’ U with, Wise rhymes aimlessly over a boring and sluggish instrumental, as he and an uncredited guest talk their hood shit, which culminates into the most gangsta song you’ll ever get from Wise, but easily the worst song on the album.

To be completely honest, after looking at the cover of Killin’ U4 Fun, I was a little concerned with what the music would sound like. It’s not the worst artwork that I’ve ever seen on an album, but something about the font-style of the lettering and the odd camera angle of the black and white pic of Wise Intelligent has a cheesy feel to it. Killin’ U is proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover, as Wise puts together an overall entertaining listen, balancing substance and shit talk, all placed over a tasty batch of beats. Tony D leads the charge on the production end, graciously blessing our host with dope jazz-textured instrumentals that we probably would never hear Wise rock over under the Poor Righteous Teachers banner, and his flow gives new meaning to the phrase stream of consciousness. Wise also places well-picked vocal snippets in between songs that provide food for thought and nicely tie the album all together. You’ll probably never hear Killin’ U labeled as a classic, but it’s a hidden gem that I’m glad to have discovered.


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The Conscious Daughters – Gamers (March 5, 1996)

The last and first time we heard from The Conscious Daughters was in 1993 with their debut album, Ear To The Street. The album produced a couple of mild hood hits, and there were a few songs that I enjoyed, but overall, the Oakland-based duo’s gangsta persona felt ingenuine and Paris’ beats didn’t cut it. Nevertheless, CMG and Special One would return in 1996 with their second release, Gamers.

For Gamers, Paris would only produce half of the album for his protégés, letting a few outside parties handle the other portion. Gamers received decent reviews upon its release and would climb to twenty-nine on the Billboards Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts, before disappearing as quickly as the midnight train to Georgia. I have no idea what that means or why I said it, but shoutout to Gladys Knight and her Pips.

I wasn’t checking for TCD when they came out back in the nineties, and honestly, I’m not sure what moved me to buy Ear To The Street and later, Gamers, well over a decade after both albums were released. Blame it on the collector that dwells inside of me and torments my soul. This is my first time listening to Gamers since I bought it, so hopefully it fairs better than its predecessor.

Strikin’ – TCD starts off the night with a lively synth-heavy west coast bop that CMG and Special One use to celebrate the art of strikin’, which I learned from listening to this song is slang for driving your whip obnoxiously reckless. Nate Fox’s funky backdrop fits the bill and will definitely make you want to go wreck your shit while swervin’ to this heat.

Gamers – This title track was also the lead single from the album. Mike Mosley (with a co-credit going to Sam Bostic) slides our hostesses a mildly funky mid-tempo groove that they use to boast about their quest to get money by any means necessary. I wasn’t crazy about this one after the first few listens, but it grows on you over time. The song ends with fellow Oakland native and comedian, Luenell, doing a bit about men from the “NFL”, and her voice sounds ten thousand cigarettes less raspy than it sounds today.

You Want Me – Paris gets his first production credit of the night, as he hooks up a low-key seductive track and TCD try their hand in what we’ll refer to as exotic dance rap. I’m so used to hearing them spit thug raps that it caught me off guard to hear them give up raunchy bars like this, but I was sold the second I heard Special One say she’s “rollin’ down the strip, rubbin’ on that nigga dick”. Immediately, CMG’s thick frame on the album cover started to look a whole lot more appealing. I do have a question, though: how do talk this freaky on a song and then claim you don’t give head on the hook? Sixty-eight and you be owin’, my ass!

All Caught Up – TCD follows up their x-rated exploits on the previous track with this gangsta PSA on AIDS (which includes, what sounds like, Special One taking a shot at Eazy-E with her line “Nah, it couldn’t happen to me, you think I’m easy, hell, I know my shit is ruthless, but damn, I only fuck with men”; which might have been a little too soon, considering he died just over a year prior). Paris provides a hard funk instrumental, laced with a trunk rattling bass line to complement the ladies’ potent message.

She’s So Tight – Our hostesses use this one to talk their shit and challenge any female emcee in the game that isn’t from Oakland. CMG keeps her targets general, while Special One takes a coded shot at Boss (“You broke hungry hoe must you bite on me? Put your own shit together for your own recipe”, which is clearly referencing Boss’ song “Recipe Of A Hoe”) and Prince’s former protege, Vanity (rip), who gave up music to become an evangelist in the nineties, even catches a semi-stray (for some reason SO’s line “Maybe I should get saved like that bitch Vanity”, makes me chuckle every time I hear it). I wasn’t crazy about the generic talk box chorus or the cheesy Casio keyboardish instrumental, but TCD manages to keep the song interesting with their rhymes.

It Don’t Stop – TCD invites Bay Area rappers, Shuga Babydoll, Mystic and Suga-T to join them on the mic for this all-female posse record. Tone Capone lays down a slick instrumental for the ladies, who all give, at minimum, serviceable performances, while Lil Kristen tries her best to bring the whole song to a complete stop (pun intended) with her horrendous singing on the hook, but to no avail.

Female Vocalism – Someone simply credited as Rose hooks up some funky smooth shit for CMG and Special One to continue to talk their shit and spew their thug raps over, or as the song title and hook state: spit that “Playa female vocalism straight from the Bay.” This was dope.

Da Mack Shit – Paris serves up a hard-fried west coast banger, as the self-proclaimed “sucka-free Thelma and Louise” floss, smoke, thug and shoot-up the entire track; and of course, Special One makes sure to sneak in another subliminal, this time taking aim at Da Brat (“I crack, any rat-ta-tat-tat trick coming wack”). TCD sounds great matched with this intense backdrop, and they demolish this shit like a wrecking ball.

Who Got Da Mic – The ladies bring the energy way down with this one. After a wack emcee named B-Fad G embarrasses himself with a few horrible bars, CMG and Special One jump on the mic and rock the chilled-out instrumental the right way. It’s not as epic as the previous song, but it’s still decent.

TCD Fo’ Life (West Coast Bomb) – Speaking of epic: Paris concocts a pounding west coast monster (if the Dr. Dre produced instrumentals for “Serial Killa” and “Natural Born Killaz” had a baby, this is what it would sound like) that TCD lasso with ease and completely rip to shreds, and according to Special One, new assholes for weak muthafuckas as well. The menacing music paired with TCD’s fervent bars forced me to throw up the dubs, c-walk and hit switches in my six-fo’, even though I don’t have one. This is “Da Mack Shit” on steroids. Easily the best record on Gamers.

Come Smooth, Come Rude – This is clearly filler material. But I did enjoy the catchy hook, credited to a Sandy Griffith, no relation to Andy.

Widow – This kind of works as the sequel to Ear To The Street’s “Wife Of A Gangsta”. CMG and Special One play the roles of wives who’ve lost their streetwise drug-dealing husbands to the game and are now out to avenge their deaths and make some paper while they’re at it. Paris’ instrumental was cool, but the storyline isn’t nearly as interesting as it reads.

So Good – More brags, boasts and thuggery from our hostesses, served over a pretty synth-funk groove. This is followed by a Luenell skit that sets up the final song of the night.

All Star Freestyle – TCD closes out the night with a Bay Area cipher session, as CMG and Special One invite a slew of their friends (including Mystic, Money B, Clee, Saafir and Mac Mall, just to name a few) to jump on the mic and get off a few freestyle bars. Unfortunately, the instrumental is garbage, none of the participants spit fire, and I’m still trying to figure out who the all-stars are that TCD references in the song title.

Oh, what a difference three years makes. On Ear To The Street, TCD sounded like Boss wannabee studio gangsters trying to find their footing. On Gamers the ladies stick with their gangsta mannerisms, and while I’m still not convinced that they walk what they talk, they deliver their content with a confidence and swag that makes them hard not to like. The production on Gamers is also much improved, as Paris maestros a few absolute bangers, and he and the other handful of producers give the album an overall consistent and quality G-Funk sound. Gamers is not without flaws (“All-Star Freestyle” is a glaring one) and far from a classic, but there are enough solid to great moments to make the album an entertaining listen. I’m still confused on how they arrived at the group name, though.


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