Sadat X – Wild Cowboys (July16, 1996)

Sadat X got his start in the game as part of the legendary group out of New Rochelle, NY, Brand Nubian. Along with DJ Alamo, Lord Jamar and the De facto leader of the group, Grand Puba Maxwell, Brand Nubian made a great first impression on their debut album, All For One, mixing sharp bars with their Five Percent teachings over a soul, jazz and reggae flavored production template. Puba would forget about “all” to focus on “one” after the first album, leaving Sadat and Lord Jamar to fend for themselves. The duo (along with DJ Sincere who stepped in for Alamo, who left to work with Puba) would respond by delivering two quality albums in In God We Trust and Everything Is Everything. Sadat’s nasal vocal tone and unique rhyming pattern gained the native BX emcee a cult like following, and the two Grand Puba-less Brand Nubian albums, along with a handful of cameos on other projects, would give him the confidence to embark on his solo career. Sadat would sign a solo deal with Loud/RCA, where he would release his debut solo album, Wild Cowboys.

Based on the liner notes booklet, the Wild Cowboys consists of Sadat X, his newly found microphone sidekick, Shawn Black, Mark Da Spark and fittingly for an album called Wild Cowboys, he would reunite with DJ Alamo (there are two more dudes in the album cover pic, but the names and solo pics of these two random individuals are not listed in the liner notes). Sadat would call on a host of producers to contribute beats, including Diamond D, Buckwild, Pete Rock and Showbiz, just to name a few. Wild Cowboys would receive decent reviews and render two singles that made minimal noise, before it would mosey on into the sunset.

I don’t remember a whole lot about Wild Cowboys, other than the singles and a B-side or two, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me after a couple listens through. Bars!

The Lump Lump – Sadat kicks off the night with a song about cheatin, creepin’, and enticing asses aka lump lumps. Buckwild mixes crisp drums, an energetic bass line and a vocal snippet from a classic Groove Theory joint (“Tell Me”) on the hook, while Sadat’s rhymes run all over the place like a toddler who just learned to walk. This was a weird way to start the album, but I did enjoy a chuckle when Sadat dubbed James Evans as “Corduroy James” (if you grew up watching Good Times, then you know why that alias is funny).

Wild Cowboys – Diamond D builds this instrumental around a buzzing bass line and a mischievous xylophone loop that Sadat uses to make clever pop culture cowboy references (“The only prairie I seen was in the library, and the last Indian I seen, was headin’ towards Cleveland”) and spew other random ideas, including a bar dedicated to Thelma Evans’ lump lump (“You could see that it (her ass) was mean, even from the small screen”), making this the second consecutive song on Wild Cowboys to make a Good Times reference. Sadat’s unorthodox rhyming pattern sounds great over this instrumental. Based on the plurality in the song title, I was expecting a few of his crew members to join him, but I enjoyed Sadat on this solo mission.

Sauce For Birdheads – Shawn Black (not to be confused with the Shawn Black aka Black Attack that we heard a few posts ago on DJ Honda’s compilation album, H, which Sadat also appears on) pairs up with Sadat, as the two share mic time over a creamy instrumental built around a plush piano loop. Shawn and Sadat spit nearly impossible to follow storylines about conniving chicks (which would be the birdheads referred to in the unique song title) and drug deals gone bad. I quit trying to follow their rhymes after the third listen and decided to just enjoy DJ Ogee’s soothing backsplash.

Open Bar – Sadat maintains the mellow energy from the previous two songs, as he’s joined by his Brand Nubian bredrin, DJ Alamo on the beat and Grand Puba on the mic, which, just like their collab on the DJ Honda album (see “Straight Talk From NY” from H) left me wondering, “Where the hell is Lord Jamar?” He must have had beef with them, or at least one of them (*cough* Grand Puba)…moving on. Like the Honda record, Puba easily out rhymes his old pal (for some reason, Sadat’s vocal has an annoying echo on this track), and Alamo’s relaxing instrumental was pleasant.

Hang ‘Em High – This was the album’s lead single. Fittingly, for an album titled Wild Cowboys, Ali Malek builds this backdrop around the iconic whistle from the theme music from the 1967 Clint Eastwood movie, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Sadat uses the Western movie mood to relate the historic Wild West to the modern streets of New York, and while he does a semi-passable job comparing the two worlds, I was more impressed by the music (even though it’s low hanging cliché fruit) and the rugged voice of D.V. Alias Khrist (who in ‘96 was seriously trying to make a run at becoming the East Coast Nate Dogg) on the hook.

Do It Again – This song is all kinds of hot messes. Minnesota throws Sadat a horrible instrumental (it sounds like a stomach with the “bubble guts”) and our host sounds like a horny desperate man, begging a chick for a second chance at sex, spittin’ lines like: “I’ll do that R.Kelly on ya’ (which could mean a few different things in this day and age), finger test is smelly on ya’” and “The boy dry humps, is now man pumps.” Sadat’s perverted rhymes combined with the horrid instrumental are sure to make the object of his erection decline his pleas for a redo and dry up the vaginas of all the other female listeners.

Games Sober – The Money Boss Players join Sadat and Shawn Black on this posse (pun intended) session, as all eight rappers get off verses over a slippery funk guitar driven instrumental (credited to Ant Greene aka Father Time), while the female guest vocalist, Sha Sha, sings the hook and adlibs. Once again, the music outshines the rhymes.

Smoking On The Low – Sadat dedicates this one to all the undercover drug addicts. You can go ahead and give yourself a headache trying to decode and unravel Sadat’s rhymes or follow my lead and just enjoy the pulsating trunk rattling bass line in Buckwild’s monster instrumental, along with Alias Khrist’s subtle slave-like moaning on the hook.

Petty People – Sadat and Shawn Black link up again, this time to call out petty people…we’ll, kind of. Like most of the album to this point, the rhymes are unfocused and all over the place, and to add insult to injury, Diamond D backs the duo’s randomness with what might be the worst instrumental in his phenomenal production discography.

The Interview – This one pairs Sadat with a female journalist played by the lovely, Regina Hall (might I add that this was a few years before she played Candy in The Best Man, so you already know what she was looking like in ‘96. Lawd, have mercy!). Da Beatminerz provide a hard funk bop (with an assist from Tone Da Backbone on bass), as Hall shoots Sadat a bunch of questions that he gives decent responses to. At one point she does have to tell Sadat, “You got a little off subject,” to help reel him back in (imagine that). This one grows on me the more I listen to it, and it makes for a decent album cut.

Stage And Lights – This Showbiz produced track was also the B-side to the “Hang ‘Em High” single. Sadat uses Showbiz’s bouncy backdrop to spit more random rhymes, with the record’s ultimate theme being: whether on stage or in the streets, he’s the same Sadat. I used to despise this record, but it doesn’t sound as dry now as it did back in the day.

Move On – After a few opening words from Shawn Black, Sadat uses this track to share his resume and reminisce a bit on the first two verses, before using the final verse to list every one of his financial responsibilities: rent, phone, electricity, child support, car note, student loan; he even lists his grown ass homeboys as a responsibility, to which I would say, “Nigga, get a job!” Diamond D puts together a chill bass line, a smooth horn sample and a laidback wah wah guitar loop to back Sadat’s rhymes, and this ends up being a solid album cut.

The Funkiest – Sadat does Sadat (though his vocals sound submerged in water) over a cool funk groove. That’s all I got.

Escape From New York – Pete Rock gets his sole production credit of the night, recycling the instrumental that he previously used on the intro for “In The Flesh” from he and C.L.’s Main Ingredient album. PR brings Deda (who also rapped on “In The Flesh”) to the party to share mic time with Sadat and the duo, unexpectedly, do a solid job of entertaining. Speaking of solid, I still don’t know what to think of Deda “Solid like Stone and the Family Sly” line.

The Hashout – The last track of the night features a slightly sleepy backsplash built around slight drums and a dreary piano loop, as Sadat is joined by Shawn Black, Cool Chuck and T.E.C. (aka Tito El Coqui) for this album ending cipher session (I wonder if Cool Chuck and T.E.C. are the two anonymous cowboys on the album cover). I actually enjoyed the music, even though it was an odd choice for a posse record.

It never seizes to amaze me how the same attribute that attracted you to someone/something can become the same attribute that makes you despise that person/thing, over time. In the case of Wild Cowboys, it’s Sadat X’s flow. On the first three Brand Nubian albums, Sadat impressed with his distinctive nasally voice and his unorthodox rhyming pattern that almost felt like he was leading you through a maze, never knowing exactly where he was going with his bars and rhyme schemes, but he always led you out, and left you satisfied. On Wild Cowboys, Sadat no longer has the crutch of a group to split up the mic time, and with the spotlight shining solely and fully on him, a large chunk of his rhymes sound sloppy and unfocused and his once intriguingly unorthodox flow now just sounds awkward when consumed in this large of a dosage. On the bright side, two-thirds of the production is solid, but Sadat could have easily shaved four songs off the album, as it runs too long, and his content gets repetitive by the mid-way point of the album. Might I add that Shawn Black’s lackluster contribution on a handful of songs, doesn’t help matters, either. I love Sadat X as part of Brand Nubian, but Wild Cowboys is a bit disappointing and a great example of why every rapper shouldn’t be a solo artist.


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De La Soul – Stakes Is High (July 2, 1996)

When it comes to hip-hop crews, The Native Tongue will always be my favorite collective. From The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest to Monie Love, Black Sheep, Leaders of The New School, and later, Common and Mos Def, The Native Tongues have never been afraid to go against hip-hop’s grain, never conforming to the norms. They weren’t gangstas, drug dealers, hustlers and pimps, nor did they portray those roles in their music, but instead they represented the everyday Tyrone, discussing, as Q-Tip once simply put it, “this and that, ‘cause this and that was missing.” The summer of ‘96 would soon become a hot tongue summer, as two of the core NT groups (and my personal favorites) would release albums in July: Tribe would release their fourth album at the end of the month (I’ll definitely be covering that album in the next few weeks) and De La Soul would kick the month off with their senior album and the subject of this post, Stakes Is High.

Stakes Is High would be the first De La Soul outing without the assistance of Prince Paul’s zanily creative genius (except for one track that I’ll discuss a little later), as the three plugs, Posdnous (aka Plug 1, aka Wonder Why), Trugoy (aka Plug Two, aka Dove) and Maseo (aka Plug 3), would be left to sculpt the sound of the music by themselves with a few assists from a couple of friends. The liner jacket for the cd version of Stakes is an elaborate twelve page spread (counting the front and back), with six of the pages dedicated to all the guests that appear on the album (Common, Mos Def, Zhane, Truth Enola, but curiously, no Jazzyfatnastees) and some of their Native Tongue bredrin: Prince Paul, Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest (even though ATCQ gets at least three different shout outs on the album I’ll use the liner notes pics for Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post). Like Buhloone Mindstate before it, Stakes would continue De La’s trend away from the commercial success they found on their first two releases, but it still received decent to favorable reviews from the critics and adequate love from the streets and the common man.

Like It Was Written, Stakes was also part of the soundtrack to my summer of ‘96. It’s been a minute since I’ve listened to it, so this should be a fun refresher from one my favorite hip-hop groups.

IntroStakes opens with different people recalling where they were and what they were doing the first time they heard BDP’s classic record, “Criminal Minded.” Suddenly, the commentary is interrupted by an urgent, almost frantic instrumental, as Posdnous (who cleverly, truthfully and sadly proclaims “De La Soul is here to stay like racism”) and Trugoy (whose abstract bars are all over the place to the point they make him scream at the end of his rhyme) each get off a verse to warm up for the evening.

Supa Emcees – With a little assistance from a Slick Rick snippet, the Plugs question the current state of the emcee on the hook, backed by a thick mopey bass line and slightly depressed chords that sound stuck yearning for yesteryear. Dove and Pos each get off a verse dissing these microwave emcees (that they also bluntly tell to stop rhyming on the hook), with Pos inflicting the most damage with his intelligent verbal lashing: “Entering my constellation puts your lives in jep’, while you others represent, I present my rep, cause when it comes to makin’ dents, I’m the main imprint, even smoke from blunts which give eyes the reddish tint, could not prevent, you from seeing I’m the light, bring attention to my words like some ass in tights, I heard you wanna fight, with your words on stage, so Mase pulls that instrumental from the jam you made, and as he starts cuttin’ what you sold, I’ll talk all over your tones, as if my name was Pete Rock or Sean “Puffy” Combs.” This is a great record, and the content is just as relevant today as it was twenty-six years ago.

The Bizness – De La invites Common to join them on this one, as he, Pos and Dove take turns displaying how they “cook these delicacies” on the mic. The “musical plate” is built around a simple bouncy but funky bass line, and even though the instrumental feels a little empty, it works well for Dove to get his grown man flex on (he’s thinking acres, houses and horses, while most rappers are chasing fancy cars), Common to whip yo’ ass on the mic and in NBA Live (speaking of ass, Common almost stuck his foot in his mouth with the Greg Louganis line that gets censored out…but we all know what he said) and Pos to casually, roast emcees, before leaving all would be challengers with a “simple equation” (“When one shows, he pose threat to this one, this one, will make that one, into none”). True emcee shit. The song is followed by a soulful airy instrumental that Pos and Trugoy use to give about forty-five seconds worth of shout outs over. Then a short snippet of one of Pos’ verses from another song on the album (that we’ll discuss, shortly) plays to set up the next song.

Wonce Again Long Island – Posdnous gets the first solo record of the night with this one. Over a soulful mildly funky bop, Wonder Why reps for Long Island and all supa emcees around the world, as he shares a brief bio and discusses his entrance into the game on the first verse, before using the rest of the song to voice more of his frustration with these trash emcees. At the tail end of the third verse, Pos, specifically calls out the female rappers who substitute skills with sexuality (*cough* Lil Kim, Foxy Brown):”Walkin’ around like they got nuts and use they tits and ass like a crutch.” Then before he parts, Pos leaves us with a precious jewel: “The underground’s about not being exposed, so you better take yo’ naked ass and put on some clothes,” which unfortunately, no longer applies in today’s hip-hop.

Dinninit – De La keeps things light with this one, as Spearhead X slides them a creamy smooth groove (built around the same Milt Jackson loop that Extra P would use for his single, “Ijuswannachill,” which was released the same year) that finds the trio looking for a party and the ladies to blow some of their hard-earned dough on. During this era of De La Soul, it was rare to get a “party record” from them, but this one feels organic and sounds great. This is followed by a short and pleasant instrumental interlude.

Breaks – I’ve never quite understood the message in this song, but I think it’s De La’s way of saying time and chance happen to us all? (that’s biblical, Ecclesiastes 9:11) Regardless of the message, I’ve never cared much for this one, mainly due to the boring instrumental.

Dog Eat Dog – Even though the liner notes credit De La for this instrumental, Prince Paul is on record saying he produced this one, and the barking dog sample laced throughout the song, reeks of PP’s antics. Trugoy and Posdnous use this one to express their frustrations with the growing gangsta rap fascination and doing business with crooked record executives, as they refuse to play the shady games or even attempt to compete with them. The slightly zany chords in the music give off “unhappy” and “I’m over this shit” vibes that sound great backing the resentful veteran emcees’ content.

Baby Baby Baby Baby Ooh Baby – The gentlemen at the beginning of the track says, “They done took the Buffalo Girls beat and changed it all around.” Well, he’s referring to Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” record, but the source material for the musical meat of this playful love song comes from another McLaren record (“Hobo Scratch”). The Jazzyfatnastees (which is a great group name, by the way) join our hosts and sing a lust-filled verse, followed by a hook, before Pos reciprocates the Nastees freaky sentiments by rapping a verse. This strange intermission is concluded with words from the New York City radio personality, Fatman Scoop, and then we’re on to the next song.

Long Island Degrees – De La quickly whisks the listener away from the madness of the last record and drops them square in the middle of this soothing melodic musical, punctuated by a howling vocal loop and what sounds like Dove’s voice contributing an airy “dahdahdah” on the hook. Dove and Pos pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato, as they rep for Long Island and, of course, take a few shots at all those other rappers that they frown down upon. Trugoy even shoots a subtle shot at Biggie with his line “Stakes is higher than the sky, I got questions ‘bout your life if you’re so ready to die.” What if Biggie responded to that shot? And how bizarre (and entertaining) would a Biggie/De La Soul beef have been? Just a few strange thoughts that run through my mind on occasion. This song is followed by a short snippet of a redneck talkin’ shit about rap music (he views it as “just niggers talkin’”) before the next song begins.

Betta Listen – Dove and Posdnous use this soulful groove to exchange stories about picking up women. Dove raps about an anonymous chick he met outside a club (whose onion booty had him on the verge of tears), before Pos spits one of my favorite verses on the album, about a one-night stand with a woman named Gayle from Uniondale, NY (or as Pos calls it “The union of Dale”) who hi-lariously tells him “I bet your ass is darker than a Mobb Deep track.” This entertaining track is followed by a quick skit that finds Maseo all the way pissed off after a miscommunication with a show promoter leads the group to the wrong venue.

Itzsoweezee (HOT) – The second single released from Stakes also happens to be a Trugoy solo joint. Over a lackadaisical bass line and semi-melancholic chords, Dove continues to shit on gangster rap and the rappers who worship material possessions. I’ve always thought this was an odd choice for a single. It’s a decent record but is sounds like filler material, and there are so many stronger records on the album that would have made for better singles, but whatever. This is followed by a super dope instrumental interlude that I would have loved to hear more of.

4 More – De La and O. Gee collab on this understated funky bop that finds Pos and Trugoy going into player mode, as they spit smooth lines designed for the ladies’ ears, while the lovely voices of the duo, Zhane, drop in to sing on the hook, accentuating the dope instrumental.

Big Brother Beat – Skeff Anselm gets the production credit for this one, hooking up a dope instrumental that relies heavily on a super rubbery bass line, as Mos Def makes his official world premiere (I say official, because Mos was a part of a group called Urban Thermo Dynamics (or UTD for short) with his brother, DCQ and sister, Ces. They recorded an album in ‘94, but it got shelved by Payday and wouldn’t see the light of day for another ten years, well after Mos became an established and respected emcee), tag teaming the mic with Plugs One and Two. I have no idea who Big Brother Beat is, but I enjoyed this song that’s dedicated to him.

Down Syndrome – I have no idea what the song title means in reference to this record, but this is the song that the Posdnous verse snippet after “The Bizness” was taken from. The plugs pick up the energy level and tempo for this one, as Pos and Dove are in battle mode, firing verbal darts at all would be competitors who dare test these wily veterans on mic. I wasn’t crazy about this one back in the day, but it’s definitely grown on me through the years.

Stakes Is High – This title track was also the lead single from the album. J Dilla gets his only production credit of the night with this smooth bop, laced with an irresistible horn break (I was lucky enough to catch De La Soul performing this song live with an all-brass band years ago, and the horn break sounded even more amazing blaring into your ears with live instrumentation in real time), while the fellas deliver, easily the most socially conscious record in their catalog. Pos comes off like the hip-hop version of Chris Rock, as he sarcastically covers serious topics that make you laugh to keep from crying: like gun control (which means “using both hands in my land”), racism (“a meteor has more right than my people”), suicide (his friend’s “mind got congested, he got the nine and blew it”), and drug abuse (“Experiments where needles and skin connect, no wonder where we live is called the projects”). And Dove expresses his distain with just about everything (bitches shakin’ asses, blunt talk, award shows, r&b bitches over bullshit tracks, name brand clothes, coke, crack, etc., etc, etc.). This is a classic record, and next to “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa,” the darkest joint in De La’s lengthy catalog.

Pony Ride – De La invites Truth Enola (who has a great rapping voice) to join them, as the three emcees abstractly and maturely tell society as a whole to stop trying to play them. Some of the rhymes (especially Dove’s and Truth’s) get too abstract to understand, but the dope instrumental and all its amazing cuts, breaks and bridges are easy to follow and enjoy. This is followed by dialogue from a homeless man sharing the struggle of maintaining (both mentally and physically) on the streets, which sets up the next song.

Sunshine – For the grand finale, De La switches things up to much lighter and brighter vibes than the previous track. This one almost feels celebratory (thanks largely to an excited Truth Enola at the beginning of the song), as Pos and Dove boast of their skills, shit on a few more wack emcees, and for once on Stakes, they sound cheerful. Okay, cheerful might be a stretch; content might be a better word. Stakes kind of ends where it began, with a gentleman on the verge of sharing where he was when he first heard De La’s debut album, 3 Feet High And Rising,” before things abruptly end, including the album.

Since their De La Soul Is Dead album, De La has perpetually been the disgruntled rappers in the Native Tongue fold. Through the music, they’ve consistently voiced their frustrations with record executives and record labels (Tommy Boy has been on the receiving end of several of their sarcastic verbal darts), the hip-hop community, who’s questioned their legitimacy and authenticity, “fad rap,” and all the bandwagon rappers who jump on whatever style is hot in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Ironically, De La’s discontentment is also the attribute that’s helped them stay grounded and true to the art form through the years, fueling their quality musical output, and that tradition continues with Stakes Is High.

Without much help from Prince Paul (if any), De La Soul is able to craft a concentrated batch of jazz and soul-tinged instrumentals, while Posdnous (who is smarter than your favorite rapper) and his sidekick, Trugoy discuss everything from social issues to one-night stands, with a heapin’ helpin’ of industry bashing and emcee shaming mixed in. The combination results in an assortment of dope records that my mature ear appreciates even more today than it did twenty-six years ago.

Whether or not Stakes Is High is a classic album, can be debated, but there is no debating that it’s a great work from the best jaded hip-hop group to ever do it.


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Happy 29th Birthday!!!!

Akineyele’s debut album, Vagina Diner, turned 29 today! Celebrate by reading my review, listening to the album, and go grab something yummy to eat (wink, wink).


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Nas – It Was Written (July 2, 1996)

Last Saturday marked the 26th anniversary of the release of It Was Written, and coincidentally, the album ends up being my next write up. Time is truly, Illmatic.

After delivering arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all-time with his 1994 undisputed classic debut album, Illmatic, Nas had way more pressure on his shoulders than the average rapper trying to resist the grips of the sophomore jinx. It had been over two years since the prolific street poet blessed the world with his masterpiece that would not only be highly acclaimed by the streets and major publications like The Source and Rolling Stone, but years later would become curriculum for classes taught at universities, including the prestigious, Harvard University. What does an artist do after their debut album is not only considered their own personal masterwork but the magnum opus of an entire genre? Well, Nas would respond with It Was Written.

Other than DJ Premier, who receives one production credit on IWW, Nas would abandon the legendary hip-hop producers (Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip (it’s a weak Tribe Degrees of Separation, but I’m going to use it)) that helped shape the sound of Illmatic, instead relying heavily on the production of the Trackmasters (Poke and Tone), who at the time had a knack for creating polished hip-hop records to bring artists commercial success. IWW receive mix reviews upon its release, while the streets were torn as well, with some calling Nas a sellout for his newfound radio-friendly sound and others would go the extreme opposite side of the spectrum, proclaiming IWW a greater work than Illmatic. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of IWW, it would go on to become Nas’ most commercially successful album (Thanks largely to the Lauryn Hill assisted lead single), receiving triple platinum certification in 2021.

IWW is one of three albums that soundtracked my summer of ’96. I haven’t listened to IWW in a few years, so allow me to break it down, chop it up and (semi-playfully) pull together all the reasons IWW caused Pac to spark beef and fire shots at Nas on The Don Killuminati’s infamous diss track, “Against All Odds.”

Album IntroIWW opens with Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come” vibes, as Nas and his buddy travel back in time and play the role of fed-up African slaves on a plantation, ready to spark a revolt. Even with Nas’ horrible fake southern accent, this was and remains one of hip-hop’s most powerful album opening skits. The second half of the intro features Nas and AZ introducing the listener to the album and talking random gibberish (where Nas hi-lariously says “These niggas look faker than the new hundred-dollar, son” to which AZ responds with a cackle and co-signs with “They look like Monopoly money, right?) over a soothingly soulful instrumental.

The Message – Before Juice WRLD (God bless the dead) or Yung Bleu would sample Sting’s “Shape Of My Heart” to make hit records, the Trackmasters would loop it up for the first song on IWW. Nas uses the beautifully sorrowful backsplash to call out studio gangstas (“Fake thug, no love, you get the slug, CB4 Gusto, your luck low, I didn’t know ‘til I was drunk, though”…I’ve heard the theory that this line was aimed at Pac, and even though I’m not sure how accurate that claim is, for shits and giggles, we’ll call this line Exhibit A as evidence to why Pac started beefin’ with Nas), boast of his “ill sex adrenaline” (shout out to the beautiful Vanity (rip)), before using the song’s final verse to illustrate a confrontation that ends with our commentator getting shot in the leg (this is the line that Pac directly references in “Against All Odds” (“Talkin’ bout he left the hospital, took five like me”), so I’ll submit this as Exhibit B). Nas then concludes this great opening track by leaving us with a hood jewel: “A thug changes, and love changes, and best friends become strangers.” Keep living and you’ll soon find out all three of those statements are true.

Street Dreams – The Trackmasters build this instrumental around the same Linda Clifford sample that Johnny J (rip) used for the title track on Pac’s All Eyez On Me (I’ll submit this as Exhibit C to the Pac/Nas beef theory: Pac felt Nas stole his beat), as Nas raps about the road to becoming a successful drug dealer and remixes and embarrassingly, sings the hook from the Eurythmics’ classic record “Sweet Dreams” (Nas was so into his Escobar persona by this point that the video was a short clip parody of the classic mafia flick, Casino). This was the second single released from IWW, and even though I’ve never been crazy about this song, it’s still passable (the cassette/cd maxi-single included a mix with an alternate third verse that didn’t add to or subtract from the song). The Trackmasters would also remix the song with a plush and creamy instrumental that featured R. Kelly (am I allowed to say his name?) singing the hook and adlibs, while Nas gives the song a complete lyrical facelift, as he gets into his introspective-reflective bag. Even with Mr. Kelly’s recent thirty-year sentencing for his dirty deeds, I’m still willing to admit that I enjoyed the remix more than the original. The original mix ends with gunshots and melee to set up the next song…

I Gave You Power – Premo gets his lone production credit of the night, as he hooks up an emotional backdrop built around a burdened violin loop. Prem’s production sounds custom made for Nas’ storyline that finds him rapping from the perspective of an old and weary gun, exhausted from all of his owner’s evil deeds: “Always I’m in some shit, my abdomen is the clip, the barrel’s my dick, uncircumcised, pull my skin back and cock me, I bust off when they unlock me, results of what happens to niggas shocks me, I see niggas bleedin’, running from me in fear, stunningly tears, falls down the eyes of these so called tough guys, for years, I’ve been used in robberies, given niggas heart to follow me, placing people in graves, funerals made, cause I was sprayed.” During the final verse, the tired gun decides to “jam right in his owner’s hand” seeking the last laugh, but does he? If you’ve never heard this song before, go listen to it immediately, and if you’re already familiar with this song, go revisit this masterful work from one of the most prolific lyricists in the history of hip-hop. Easily, one of the greatest conceptual songs of all-time. While it’s a stretch, I’ll submit this as Exhibit D in the Pac/Nas beef: Pac may have felt that Nas stole this concept from his “Me And My Girlfriend” record, even though Nas’ record was released months before and superior to Pac’s.

Watch Dem Niggas – The Trackmasters build this instrumental around a Bob James/Earl Klugh loop (or interpolation) as Nas lets his stream of consciousness flow run wild right from the jump: “They never realize, how real Nas is so decisive, it’s just the likeness, of Israelites mist, that made me write this, a slight twist, of lime rhyme, be chasing down your prime time, food for thought or rather mind wine, the Don Juan, features the freak shit, my thesis, on how we creep quick, fuckin’ your wife, that aint no secret, its mandatory, see that pussy, they hand it to me, I got no game, it’s just some bitches understand my story.” On the song’s final verse, Nas serves up a cautionary hood tale on what not to do when conducting illegal business, and it makes sense of and ties in the Foxy Brown assisted hook. Catchy hook and great bars, all wrapped together with a dense and infectious Earl Klugh bass line. You gotta love it.

Take It In Blood – Live Squad (comprised of Stretch and his brother, Majesty), Top General Sounds and Lo Ground, concoct this hard shimmering backdrop that flips a clever Kool Keith bar on the hook. Nas consumes the fiery instrumental with ease, as he stays in his stream of consciousness bag and goes bananas over the course of the song’s three verses: “Currency is made to trust in a Messiah, I’m spending it to get higher, Earth, Wind & Fire, singing reasons why I’m, up early, trustworthy, is a nine that bust early, sunshine in my grill, I spill, Remi on imaginary graves, put my hat on my waves, Latter Day Saints say religious praise, I dolo, challenge any team or solo, you must be buggin’ out, new to my shit, home on a furlough.” This still sounds amazing; easily one of the best songs on IWW. This is also Exhibit E in the Pac/Nas beef: Stretch, who received a co-production credit on this track and was once Pac’s righthand man (he’s actually rapped alongside Pac on a few different songs, going back to “Crooked Ass Nigga” from 2pacalypse Now), was rumored to have set Pac up during the 1994 New York robbery attempt that left Pac with five gunshot wounds. The fact that Nas was now “mans” with the man Pac believed set him up, pissed him all the way off. Sadly, Stretch (whom Nas mentions during the final bars of this song) was murdered months before the release of IWW, on November 30, 1995, at the tender age of twenty-seven. May he continue to rest easy.

Silent Murder – If you bought IWW on cassette (like I originally did), this bonus track exists at the end of side 1(It was included on the 25th Anniversary Expanded edition of IWW as well). The Live Squad delivers again, this time drafting up a pretty production with Middle eastern vibes and an ill flute loop that Nas decapitates with his sharp verbal sword (I love the “smoke a nigga like a Hughes Brothers motion picture” line). This record was way too fire to be just a bonus track, but on the flip side, if you bought the cassette back in the day, you thought you were the shit when all the cd buyers were missing out on this precious hidden gem.

Nas Is Coming – This song marks the first time that Nas and Dr. Dre would join forces. The song starts with a minute long intro that features the two hip-hop Titans choppin’ it up (Dre sounds like he’s shittin’ the “gin and prune juice” that Nas rapped about on “Take It In Blood,” when he greets the QB emcee with a strained “What’s up, Nas?”) and simultaneously, smokin’ it up, as Nas brings his Chocolate Thai to the party, while Dre tokes on his Chronic. What was built up to be an epic collaboration gets progressively worst from there, as Dre constructs the music around a few cheesy Scooby Doo loops and Nas struggles to find his footing over the kooky synth instrumentation; and to add insult to injury, the repetitive corny hook sounds as annoying as fingertips scraping a chalkboard. This song is the audio equivalent of the Durant/Harden/Irving Brooklyn Nets team: it reads great on paper, but the results were super disappointing; and time hasn’t made this one sound much better. I’ll also submit this as Exhibit F in the Pac/Nas beef theory: Pac felt that Nas working with his former Death Row co-worker was his way off taking Dre’s side in Pac’s newfound feud with the good doctor (he calls Dre out by name on “Against All Odds” as well), who officially left the grips of Suge’s evil empire just over a month after All Eyez On Me was released.

Affirmative Action – This record gives us our first taste of The Firm: Nas Escobar, AZ aka Sosa, Foxy Brown and Cormega (who would fall out with Nas shortly after IWW was released and be replaced by Nature on the supergroup’s (I use that term loosely) 1997 group effort). The Trackmasters and Dave Atkinson cook up cinematic instrumentation that reeks of Mafia vibes (especially those ill live strings that I’m going to assume Mr. Atkinson is responsible for), as all four members go into full-fledge Mafioso mode on this one. Despite Foxy Brown’s questionable drug math (I have a sneaking suspicion that Smoothe Da Hustler wrote her verse. He’s on record for being one of her ghostwriters, and if you compare his second verse on “Hustler’s Theme” (off his debut album, Once Upon A Time In America) to Foxy’s math on this record, you’ll hear the similarities), this shit was super entertaining. Side note: On the B-side of the “Street Dreams” maxi-single, there’s an “Affirmative Action” remix with alternate verses from Foxy, AZ and Nas, rhyming over Marley Marl’s classic “The Symphony” beat. The threesome go into emcee mode, temporarily putting down their drug dealing personas, and sound great rhyming over the raw backdrop.

The Set Up – Nas recruits Sosa and two chicks from the hood, Venus (not Williams) and Vicious (these may or may not be their stripper names) to set up and kill a couple of his street rivals who murdered his homeboy. Havoc’s callous and minimalistic backdrop serves as the perfect accomplice for Nas and his crew’s devilish deeds (although his wordy hook is atrocious). It’s not a great record, but a decent to solid album joint.

Black Girl Lost – Decades before Nas would take the stance of staying “out of Black woman’s business lest you vested in it” (see “Brunch On Sundays” from King’s Disease II), he would reprimand young ladies for being too fast in these streets over this melodic L.E.S./Trackmasters produced instrumental. K-Ci (from Jodeci) co-signs Nas’ male chauvinism by singing the hook and adlibs. This one doesn’t sound as interesting to me as it did back in 1996, or maybe, like Nas, I just matured.

Suspect – L.E.S. gets his second and final production credit of the night, building this one around a simple but rough guitar loop. Nas’ first verse and the hook leads you to think this is going to be a record about a murder suspect, but the second and third verses quickly deviate into random thoughts and theories from our host, which I normally enjoy from Nas, but not so much on this song. It still makes for decent filler material, though.

Shootouts – Nas quickly starts to sound obsessed with guns and violence, as he uses yet another song to discuss shooting people. I enjoyed the Italian flavored vibes of the Kirk Goddy/Trackmasters backsplash, but my favorite emcee’s content is quickly starting to sound redundant.

Live Nigga Rap – Nas invites his QB bredrin, Mobb Deep, to join him on this one (Havoc also snags the production credit), as the three emcees each get off a verse and bypass a hook. Naturally, Nas murders his guests on this one, it’s just unfortunate that his homicide didn’t take place over a more interesting instrumental. I’ll submit this as Exhibit G and the final piece of evidence in the Pac/Nas beef: Pac was already beefin’ with Mobb Deep (he called them out by name on “Hit ‘Em Up” and again on “Against All Odds”), so for Nas to jump on a track with them, Pac felt he was choosing sides, hence firing the line “This little nigga named Nas think he live like me” on “Against All Odds.”

If I Ruled The World (Imagine That) – The lead single from IWW finds Nas, the Trackmasters (with a co-production credit going to Rashad Smith) and Lauryn Hill revisiting Kurtis Blow’s song of the same title. Nas completely annihilates this funky radio-friendly instrumental, as he paints the picture of a perfect world, through his eyes: “Imagine smokin’ weed in the streets without cops harassin’, imagine going to court with no trial, lifestyle cruiser blue behind my waters, no welfare supporters, more conscious of the way we raise our daughters.” L-Boogie then adds the cherry on top of this delectable crossover hit with her soulful vocals on the hook and adlibs. This is one of Nas’ biggest hits and it still sounds incredible today.

It’s not fair to compare It Was Written to Illmatic, as it would be nearly impossible for Nas to match the concisely flawless masterpiece that should receive strong consideration for being added as the eighth wonder of the world. On his second outing, Nas substitutes the dusty boom-bap used to shape the sonics of his debut album with polished commercial-ready instrumentals, as he introduces the world to his alter-ego, Nas Escobar, who jockeys for mic time with Nasty Nas throughout the album. Except for the average at best, “Street Dreams,” the first half of IWW is phenomenal. The production, while dressed in its crossover appealing exterior, manages to maintain its hardcore integrity, thus resonating with hardcore heads and casual music fans alike, while lyrically, Nas properly balances the street poetry we all came to know and love him for on Illmatic with his new flashier mafioso persona. It’s the second half of IWW where things get dicey. “Nas Is Coming” is the only full-fledge dud on the album, but most of the second half is plagued with mid-grade instrumentals and uninspired thug tales from our host, that quickly become redundant.

Even with its underwhelming second half, IWW is still a solid album and stronger than the best work from many of your favorite rappers. It’s just that, once you’ve tasted heaven, floating around in space just doesn’t sound that exciting anymore.


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DJ Honda – H (July 2, 1996)

DJ Honda is a Japanese deejay/producer who got his foot into American hip-hop in the mid-nineties. After being the lead vocalist and guitarist for a Japan-based rock band called the Clique, he started tinkering with deejaying. Honda began deejaying in local clubs in Japan, spinning disco records in the early eighties (yes, I know that disco died in the late seventies here in the states, but unlike Americans’ fickle asses, other countries embrace musical genres long after they’re no longer popular), but would soon discover hip-hop, which piqued his interest. Honda started studying pioneering deejays, like Grand Mixer DXT and honing his skills on the turntables after them. He would hone his skills to the point of entering the 1992 New Music Seminar’s DJ Battle for World Supremacy in New York, where he finished second. Even though he lost the battle, he would win the war, as that battle would earn him respect and help him forge relationships with a bunch of established American hip-hop artists, which would eventually lead to the culmination and release of his debut compilation album, simply titled, H (I think you’re all smart enough to figure out what the “H” stands for. If you said “hot,” you are correct).

H was originally released in Japan on the Sony Music Japan label in 1995, then re-released in the U.S. on Relativity Records in 1996. Honda would produce all thirteen tracks on the album and invite a host of veteran emcees and a few newcomers to rhymes over his instrumentals. H would go on to be moderately successful, thus setting up a series of Honda compilation and collaboration albums throughout the nineties and early two-thousands.

Like a large chunk of my collection, I discovered H years after its release, sitting in the used cd bins at one of my favorite used record spots. The name, “Honda,” and the styling of the lowercase “h” on the album cover, immediately made me think about the popular automobile brand with the same name and I was curious to why this “DJ” was jacking their name and remixing their iconic emblem. Those factors, along with the “Explicit Lyrics” sticker, moved me to pick it up and check out the liner notes, where I discovered a bunch of artists’ names whose music, I’m a fan of, and the rest is history.

This is my first time listening to H, so let’s see how this goes.

Intro – The album opens with a saddened horn loop, weary drums and a faint wailing female voice, which sounds more suitable for a funeral than an album intro. But this kind of dark shit is my happy place, so I loved it. My only issue with it is it’s too short.

DJ Battle – Things quickly shift to a snippet of DJ Honda performing live, and he gives the listener a taste of his skills on the ones and twos, as he slices up Chic’s “Good Times.” Not bad, Mr. Honda.

What You Expected – The first official record of the night pairs Honda with Gang Starr. Honda provides Guru (rip) a creamy smooth backdrop that he makes easy work of, while Premo drops in to lay his signature precision cuts on the hook. This is a dope record that sounds even better at night, and it’s exactly what I expected to hear from a Gang Starr collabo.

Kill The Noize – Our host invites the Brooklyn-based emcee, Problemz to join him on this track. Honda builds the instrumental around what sounds like a bass guitar interpolation of the bass line from The Stylistics “People Make The World Go Round,” paired with a mysterious bell/xylophone sounding loop, while Problemz finds his spot and holds his own on the mic with his monotone flow and cool demeanor. Despite his use of the overly used “Dizzy like Gillespie” metaphor (that line really should be hung in the hip-hop rafters), Problemz proves to be a spitter with a great alias.

Dat’s My Word – Redman drops by to wild out over Honda’s mystically spacey backsplash that sounds like the perfect music for an alien abduction. I don’t know if I like the pairing of Redman’s animated high energy style with the semi-subdued music, but I absolutely love Honda’s instrumental.

Straight Talk From NY – Honda is joined by two-thirds of Brand Nubian, Sadat X and Grand Puba (with Lord Jamar curiously missing is action) and some guy named Wakeem, whom I’ve never heard of before this song. Honda cooks up a bassy soulful feel good groove, while Sadat X and Wakeem (who drops two Asian slurs during his verse, which I found extremely disrespectful, especially since he’s the guest on a Japanese deejay’s record.) pretty much warm up the mic for Puba, who gets off a dope verse that finds him demanding compensation for his free endorsement of Tommy Hilfiger through the years and effortlessly shittin’ on emcees (although he was wrong about Barney putting Big Bird out of business. Sesame Street is still very much alive and well, while Barney is now extinct with the rest of his peoples…and I’d like to give a random shout out to Hip-Hop Harry). This was dope as is, but it probably would have sounded even better as a Grand Puba solo joint.

Intro – Honda leaves a few cuts and scratches on a super short after-hours appropriate instrumental to kick off the second half of H.

Out For The Cash – This New York City cipher session pairs Al Tariq (formerly known as Fashion) with his former group mates, The Beatnuts (JuJu and Psycho Les), Fat Joe and Problemz, who makes his second appearance on H. Honda mixes rugged drums with a dusty slightly out of tune piano loop, and Joey Crack, who sounds right at home rhyming over the gully soundscape, comes out victorious with blood dripping from his mouth and the beat’s head in hand.

Interlude – Common stops by and gets off a quick throw away verse over a boring DJ Honda instrumental. Thankfully, it only lasts a minute and fifteen seconds, so it’s over just as you’re moved to hit the skip button.

Biz Freestyle – Over a mellow backdrop, Biz Markie reminisces about the good old days (recalling when he first met MC Shan, Roxanne Shante and Marley Marl, and he shouts out some hip-hop pioneers, like Grand Wizard Theodore and The Cold Crush), but in true Biz Markie fashion, he spends most of the song spittin’ a bunch of randomness (i.e., shouting out all the New York sports teams, remixing the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, and he mentions “Bonita Applebum” in a line, so we can mark Tribe Degrees of Separation off for this post). This was a fun record that captures a snapshot of Biz’s charismatic and comedic genius that will forever live on through his music. Continue to rest easy, Biz.

Fuk Dat – Honda serves up his most energetic instrumental of the evening, as the Brooklyn newcomer, Sean Black aka Black Attack gets a chance to rock over this funky instrumental that includes a classic Buckshot Shorty line on the hook. Sean sounds like a competent enough emcee, delivering solid bars and keeping pace with Honda’s potent backdrop.

International Anthem – Tha Alkaholiks drop by to bless Honda on a track, as he lays an urgent sounding backsplash, dipped in airy James Bond theme music vibes, as all three legs of the team get off quality bars. E-Swift (whose apparently not aware that Spain is a part of Europe) bats first, followed by Tash (who appears as the drunk Sir Mix-A-Lot, making your fiancé put her titties on the glass), and J-Ro (who displays his obsession with wack emcees necks: first he’s stabbing them in their neck like Monica Seles (an incident that I completely forgot about before hearing this song), then later he’s found wrapping microphone cords around their throats, giving them unwanted bow ties) cleans it all up with a comically quality verse that reminded me of why he’s my personal favorite Alkaholik. After the first few listens, I thought Honda’s instrumental sounded too serious for Tha Liks’ hijinks, but the more I listen to it, the more the contrast seems to work.

The End – The final song of the night has dual meaning, as it not only marks the end of H, but it also features Al Tariq discussing the end of the world, making mention of Armageddon, The Rapture, the anti-Christ and the second coming of Jesus (he never calls him by name, but I’m pretty sure “my man’s coming back ya gonna wish he never had” is a reference to J.C.). Honda backs Al’s apocalyptic content with a melodically blunted backdrop, equipped with a vibrating bass line that feels like it’s massaging your brain when you listen to it. It was interesting to hear Al substitute the juvenile content that we grew accustomed to hearing him spit as part of the Beatnuts with “gospel rappin’, and Honda’s instrumental is really dope.

On H, DJ Honda doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but follows in the tradition of legendary east coast hip-hop producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock, putting his own eastern (Asian) interpretation on the sound and capturing the essence of mid-nineties east coast boom-bap. Collectively, the guests on H turn in adequate performances, but it’s Honda’s smooth production that carries most of the load and shines the brightest. H doesn’t have a lot of high energy joints (which some of you hardcore enthusiasts might detest), but it does provide a cohesive dosage of cool quality hip-hop (that sounds even better when played after the sun sets), and what more could you ask for from a hip-hop album?


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Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt (June 25, 1996)

Everyone is familiar with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s illustrious rise from successful drug dealer to billionaire businessman (and a business, man!) and arguably, the greatest rapper of all-time, but before he became a filthy rich rap superstar and bagged the flyest chick in the game who not only rocks his chain, but also his wedding ring, he had to pay his dues (a concept that is completely nonexistent in this current age of microwave hip-hop…but I digress). After getting his start appearing on his mentor, Jaz-O’s 1989 debut album, Word To The Jaz, he would go on to make a handful of cameos on different artists’ albums (i.e., Original Flavor, Big L, Big Daddy Kane and Mic Geronimo). These cameos would help raise Jay’s profile and after linking with Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke to form Rock-A-Fella Records, Jay would be the label’s inaugural artist, releasing his debut album, Reasonable Doubt in June of ‘96.

As Jay has mentioned before (and I’m paraphrasing), the album title references those who doubted his rapping ability, which he humbly deemed reasonably, but was out to prove them wrong, and we all know how that played out. Jay would call on a handful of producers to sculpt the sound of Reasonable Doubt (including DJ Premier, Ski-Beatz and DJ Clark Kent) and would invite a few guests to make cameos as well. Even though he felt “it should have went triple”, Reasonable Doubt would earn Jay a platinum plaque, a shit load of critical acclaim, and the album is widely heralded as a classic and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.

I’ll admit, I was a little late getting into Reasonable Doubt. My summer of 1996 was consumed by three other albums that I’ll be discussing very soon (I’m sure you can figure out at least one of them), and I didn’t start delving into Reasonable Doubt until the following September. But if my memory serves me correct; Reasonable Doubt made for great fall music.

Legend has it (and by legend, I mean from the mouth of the legendary, DJ Clark Kent) that Jay-Z only planned to make Reasonable Doubt and then exit the music game forever. Man plans, God laughs, and Shawn Carter’s been laughing his way to the bank and goat status ever since.

Can’t Knock The Hustle – The album opens with a recreated scene from the classic movie, Scarface before the first song of the night starts, which was also the third single released from Reasonable Doubt. Knobody (what an alias) chefs up a bassy and cool backdrop that sounds like its submerged in water, while Jay-Z proudly boasts about his drug dealer lifestyle (“We do dirt like worms, produce G’s like sperm, till legs spread like germs, I got extensive hoes, with expensive clothes, and I sip fine wines and spit vintage flows.”) and brashly tries to defend it: “At my arraignment, screamin’, “All us Blacks got is sports and entertainment,” until we even, thievin’, as long as I’m breathin’, can’t knock the way a nigga eatin’, fuck you even.” Mary J. Blige (who by 1996 was well on her way to becoming crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul) stops by to add her signature adlibs and sings the hook, which was a pleasant but obvious attempt to make Jay’s underworld rhetoric more digestible to the masses (aka make it sound more commercial). I’ve never been crazy about this record, but it’s still decent.

Politics As Usual – Jay gives us more drug dealer talk with this one. This time around he balances bragging with sharing some of the stresses and mental anguish that illegal business can bring: “Ya’ll feel a nigga’s struggle, ya’ll think a nigga love ta, hustle behind the wheel, tryin’ to escape my trouble? That’s out there greetin’ me, I’m talkin’ sweet to ki’s, cursin’ the very God that brought this grief to be.” Ski gets his first production credit of the night and builds a super soulful groove around a Stylistics record that works as the perfect backing music for Jay-Z’s conversational style. This one still sounds as amazing as it did twenty-five plus years ago.

Brooklyn’s Finest – The Scarface character from the intro returns to let off a few rounds and shares a few words to introduce the next record that pairs Jay with another Brooklyn legend, The Notorious B.I.G. DJ Clark Kent (with a co-production credit going to Dame Dash) loops up a funky Ohio Players joint to back the duo’s verbal sparring, as the two kings exchange witty hustler heavy rhymes. Big may have been the more established and celebrated of the two emcees at the time, but Jay matches him bar for bar on this one. This is a superb record that lives up to its title. Continue to rest easy, Biggie.

Dead Presidents II – Part 1 of this song was the promotional single for Reasonable Doubt and the version used for the video. Both versions use the same instrumental, but have different lyrics, and while I love the “Rico, all good just a week ago” line from the original, Jay sounds way more comfortable and polished on the sequel (who can ever forget the classic line: “I dabbled in crazy weight, without rap I was crazy straight, Patnah, I’m still spendin’ money from eighty-eight”?). Ski keeps the soulful vibes coming, this time building the dope backdrop around a brilliant Lonnie Liston Smith piano loop, and he uses the notorious Nas line for the hook that Jay would later reference during the two titan’s epic feud a few years later (“You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song”). This is an undeniable classic that still sounds fire.

Feelin’ It – This was the fourth and final single released from Reasonable Doubt. Ski uses another jazzy piano loop, accompanied by poppin’ drums to create this elegant instrumental that features Mecca singing on the hook and finds Jay enjoying the fruits of his illegal labor: poppin’ bottles of Moet and Cristal, driving fancy cars and smoking weed with beautiful women on exotic islands. Ya feelin’ it? Yeah, me too. Legend has it that Ski made this instrumental for Camp Lo but decided to give it to Jay at the last minute. All respect due to Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede, but I’d say Ski made the right decision.

D’Evils – Premo gets his first production credit of the night, crafting some dark boom-bap with a few classic vocal snippets scratched in to the hook, as Jay embraces “d’evils” that he confesses possess his soul and have him selling death to his own people and feuding with childhood friends over drug territories: “We used to fight for building blocks, now we fight for blocks with buildings to make a killin’, the closest of friends when we first started, but grew apart as the money grew, we grew black-hearted, thinkin’ back when we first learned to use rubbers, he never learned so in turn I’m kidnapping his baby’s mother.” This has to be the darkest record in Jay-Z’s catalog and probably the song that started the “Jay-Z’s in the Illuminati” rumors. A chilling, but great record.

22 Two’s – This one begins with Maria Davis, who actually used to to host an event called Mad Wednesdays in New York City, introducing herself and her event, before spotting Jay-Z in the audience and asking him to come to the stage and “kick a freestyle,” to which he obliges. Ski’s darkish (we’ll call it tinted) backdrop comes in and Mr. Carter takes a brief break away from his drug dealer themes to get into some emcee shit. Jay starts thing off by borrowing ATCQ’s “Can I Kick It?” call and response, and when he doesn’t get the participation from the crowd that he expected, he hi-lariously mumbles, “Ya’ll muthafuckas must didn’t hear that Tribe Called Quest shit, let’s do it again” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). As the song title suggests, Jay gets off a verse that includes twenty-two two’s (technically, he gets off a combination of twenty-two two’s, too’s and to’s), before deviating from the concept during his second verse, but he still kills it. If you’re listening to Reasonable Doubt on cassette, this record concludes side one. So, if you don’t have auto reverse, get up and flip that shit over, homie!

Can I Live – Irv Gotti (credited as DJ Irv in the album’s liner notes) gets his sole production credit of the night and he sticks to the soulful theme, looping up some classic Isaac Hayes (I love the boomin’ horn loop) for Jay to discuss more of the stresses that come with hustlin’ and the addiction to the money and lifestyle that keeps him in the game. Yet another great album cut that sounds better than most of the album’s singles.

Ain’t No Nigga – This was the second single released from Reasonable Doubt and it was also included on The Nutty Professor Soundtrack. Jay-Z let’s his mentor, Jaz-O handle the production on this one, as he flips the often used and very familiar Whole Darn Family loop for our host to spew bars filled with misogyny and materialism. Foxy Brown pops in at the tail end of the song to get off a few bars that rebuttal and co-sign Jigga’s male chauvinistic antics. I never cared much for this one. Easily my least favorite record on Reasonable Doubt.

Friend Or Foe – One of the attributes that has always set Jay-Z apart from his contemporaries is his ability to rap as if it’s just the two of you in a room having a conversation. Well, on this one you feel like a fly on a wall, as Jay confronts some out-of-towners (whom you hear talking shit about Jay during the skit before the song begins) trying to come in and set up shop in his territory: “Let me guess, they said it was money ‘round here, and the rest is me stoppin’ you from gettin’ it, correct? Sorry to hear that, my guess is you got work at the hotel, I’ll take care of that, you’ll soon see, now please, give me the room key, you’re twitchin’, don’t do that, you’re makin’ me nervous, my crew, well, they do pack, them dudes is murders.” Premo builds the backdrop around a blaring semi-wacky trumpet loop that matches Jay’s light-hearted approach to what should be seen as a serious situation. Dope song concept and brilliant execution by one of the best to ever do it.

Coming Of Age – This one pairs Jay with his protégé, Memphis Bleek, as the two mimic their raps career roles, with Jay playing the seasoned hood drug kingpin and Bleek plays the young, hungry and eager kid trying to get his feet into the drug game. Clark Kent lays down a smooth backdrop to hold down Jay and Bleek’s Goodfellas theatrics that I actually appreciate more now than I did back in ‘96.

Cashmere Thoughts – Clark Kent gets his final production credit of the evening and he keeps it funky as chitlins but still as smooth as a newborn’s ass. Speaking of smooth, Jay sounds so slick on this track that he talks the instrumental out of its panties with his cool and effortless flow: “I’m smooth but deadly like a pearl handled pistol, honeys hum in melody when I rub it like crystal, the proper etiquette, when I drop the subject, verb then the predicate with this rich nigga rhetoric”. Dope record with an equally dope song title.

Bring It On – Premo serves up a dimly lit emotion stirring backdrop with a well-placed Fat Joe vocal snippet on the hook, as Sauce Money and Jaz-O join Jay on this mafioso cipher session. All three parties bring their A-game, with Jay barely out dueling his mentor, Jaz-O (the “money makes the world go around so I made some to spin (spend)” line was too tough), but Premo’s masterful production work is the true winner on this track.

Regrets – The final song on the proper album finds Mr. Carter revisiting a couple of situations from his street pharmacists past that he wishes would have played out differently. Peter Panic provides the soulfully somber instrumental (who’s drums are almost nonexistent) to help comfort and console Jay through his painful reminiscing. Solid record and a fitting way to end the album.

Can I Live II – On the 1998 remastered version of Reasonable Doubt (which I also have a copy of) or if you stream it on your favorite DSP, this bonus track exists. The sequel has nothing on the original, and other than Jay’s mention of Pac during his first verse (“Don’t even hate one those who hate me, I got Pac on”), there’s not much to remember about this one.

Reasonable Doubt is Jay-Z’s drug dealer manifesto that not only gives you a detailed look into the life of Shawn Carter and the mechanics and workings of the underworld, but it also highlights Jay’s undeniable emcee wit and chiseled wordsmanship. Throughout Reasonable Doubt, Jay makes the listener feel like they’re riding shotgun with the Brooklyn emcee, while he navigates his luxurious whip through the New York City streets, feeding you his conversational style bars, while the phenomenal batch of soulful instrumentals back his “rich nigga rhetoric.” Several “drug dealers turned rapper” have tried to emulate the greatness of Reasonable Doubt, using the album as their blueprint (no pun intended), and a few have come close, but none have matched Jay-Z’s debut masterpiece. Reasonable Doubt has stood Teflon through time, leaving no one a reason to doubt it’s classic status.


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Prince Paul – Psychoanalysis (What It Is?) (June 25, 1996)

Prince Paul is not a household name, nor does he garner the respect in hip-hop culture that he deserves, but his resumé speaks for itself. He’s a pioneering producer who played an integral part in shaping the sound of some important hip-hop albums from the late eighties through the mid-nineties. He’s produced tracks for the likes of Big Daddy Kane, 3rd Bass, Slick Rick, Biz Markie (rip), MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, just to name a few. But he will probably most be remembered for his stint as the deejay (and part of the production team) for Stetsasonic and later for producing and molding the creative direction for De La Soul’s first three landmark albums (Paul was often referred to as the “fourth Plug” during his time with De La, who were part of the Native Tongue collective, which of course, A Tribe Called Quest was also a part of, so go ahead and check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post). Sometime during the making of De La’s fourth album, Stakes Is High (an album I’ll be breaking down in the very near future), Paul would amicably separate himself from the group and begin his solo journey. He would release his debut solo album, Psychoanalysis (What Is It?) in 1996.

Psychoanalysis was originally release on the small independent label, WordSound, but would be reissued by Tommy Boy Records In 1997 with different cover artwork and a slightly different track list (I have a copy of the Tommy Boy reissue, so that’s the version I’ll be breaking down for this post). The album wasn’t a commercial success, but it did receive positive reviews from the critics and would go on to become a cult classic amongst Prince Paul Stans.

The liner notes for Psychoanalysis reads: “This album is a compilation of senseless skitstyle material that was slapped together by Prince Paul for his own ill enjoyment.” This is my first time listening to Psychoanalysis since I bought it a few years ago, and based on Prince Paul’s disclosure, I’m fully prepared to experience some ridiculously loony shit.

Why Must You Hate Me – The album opens with a vocal sample of a therapist introducing himself as “your analysis,” then he lets whomever he’s speaking to know that he’s going to “analyze you.” Paul then brings in a loop of a vocal sample from of a male voice saying, “As long as I can remember people have hated me,” along with his mid-tempo instrumental built around somber guitar strums, setting the mood for a psychotherapy session.

Beautiful Night (Manic Psychopath) – This one begins with another soundbite from (who I believe is) the same therapist from the previous track, asking his patient to share an uncensored dream. Then Paul lays down a relaxed after hours jazzy instrumental and the patient spills his guts about all the guts that he’s spilled: he confesses to a couple of date rapes and a few homicides (I mean, the racist bartender kind of had it coming, though), while the therapist listens to the gruesome details and only response with an occasional “Yeah…mmhmm.” The hook is uncomfortably funny, and this ends up being some entertainingly bizarre shit that you’ll feel guilty for enjoying.

Open Your Mouth (Hypohalamus) – This short interlude features a decent instrumental with soundbites of a man saying, “Open your mouth, I’m going to put something nice into it,” followed by a snippet of a moaning woman. This cycle goes on for about forty-five seconds, before the therapist weighs in with his assessment, which is pretty comical.

Introduction To Psychoanalysis (Schizophrenia) – Over hard drums and dark chords, some dude (the liner notes credit him simply as “the flipper”) rambles on about being a fan of De La Soul and Prince Paul. He then mentions that he also does music and wants to become Paul’s apprentice, then out of nowhere he goes into a demented rant about delivering a pregnant heroin addict’s baby, hitting a girl with a wiffle ball bat as a kid, and somehow ends up talking about his lack of gettin’ ass and how he has some wild disorder that causes one of his nuts to get sucked up in his stomach just be for he cums, to which the therapist just casually replies “yeah, yeah.” This was wildly hi-larious.

You Made Me (A.K.C.) – Paul pieces together soundbites from a man and a woman, making the two converse and sound like they’re newly and madly in love. He backs the vocal samples with a beautifully breezy instrumental that sounds custom made for a rap love song. I have no idea what “A.K.C.” is an abbreviation for, but I do know that this instrumental is absolutely scrumptious.

Vexual Healing (Vacillation) – Paul brings the Caribbean vibes with this instrumental, while a Jamaican man and woman (credited as Del Rio and The Squid in the liner notes) separately ramble on about all kinds of randomness for nearly three and a half minutes. I’m not sure what the meaning of this interlude was, but I found the line “the child is black as a raisin,” delivered in a heavy Jamaican accent, super funny for some reason.

To Get A Gun – This short interlude features a simple drum beat and vocal snippets taken from an old black and white movie (I’m guessing it was black and white, and I’m also assuming it’s from a movie) that justify the song title. Next…

J.O.B. – Das What Dey Is! – Paul pays homage and parodies Schooly D’s classic joint, “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” with this one. He recycles the bangin’ drums and the classic crashing cymbal break from the original, as Scully B, The Mic and Man Scientist break down the meaning of “J.O.B.” for all you broke mofos.

The World’s A Stage (A Dramady) – Omega Man cracks ComicView style jokes (shout out to BET), while a laugh track encourages him to continue. Some of his jokes are actually funny (i.e., the UCLA one and the Golden State Bridge one), while others are duds, but their corniness and randomness makes them hi-larious.

Booty Clap – This one pokes fun at 2 Live Crew and the Miami Bass music that they helped make popular in the late eighties. One guy plays the Luke Campbell role, and two others spit raps gettin’ their Fresh Kid Ice (rip) and Brother Marquis on for this hypersexual call and response parody that gets asses and dicks in the air. This was actually funny.

Drinks (Escapism) – This one finds a gentleman going to a bar to get a few drinks and unloading all his troubles into the bartender’s ear, while the backing melancholic music consoles him and the sarcastic reoccurring horn loop, empathetically pats the poor chump on the back. This was cool and I’m sure most guys can relate to some of the poor chump’s feelings and complaints.

Dimepieces – Mista Wells, Smile-Lee, Nephew Mike and Howard Who all come together to spit a whole load of misogyny with an early eighties flow over a minimalistic early eighties beat, and I wasn’t amused by their antics.

In Your Mind (Altered States) – This skit features a back and forth between a sound bitten truck driver and an animated Italian gas station attendant, who find themselves on two completely different wave lengths during their hi-larious exchange. If this one doesn’t move you to at least a chuckle, there’s something wrong with your funny bone.

2 B Blunt (A True Story) – Mista Wells and Scotty puff on a blunt while they exchange two bizarre stories (the one about the “veteniarial” diseased gym shorts was pretty funny), while the mellow guitar plucks in the instrumental will sooth your soul as you listen along and giggle.

Psycho Linguistics (Convergent Thought) – Over a plush and creamy backdrop, an uncredited male emcee raps from the perspective of a psycho ward patient and gets off some quality bars: “I don’t know, I guess it’s my thought process, fifty below the level of consciousness, S.O.S., ring the alarm red alert, When I’m rhymin’, sound the sirens, the whole works, cause they consider me m-a-d, Alfred E. Neuman got nothing on me, Public Enemy No. 1, now they got me in a cell, living hell, yeah that be my life, ‘cause mine don’t matter, so I apply mind over matter, while they mull matter over mind.” The instrumental includes scattered screechy notes that make it feel like you’re strolling through the unbalanced corridors of the mentally ill rapper’s mind. This was dope. Easily my favorite joint on the album.

That’s Entertainment!? (Aversive Conditioning) – Paul splices together a bunch of random and outlandish soundbites, all tied together by the master soundbite of a man saying, “We have a little entertainment planned for you today.” Psychoanalysis would have been fine without this interlude, but at least the decent instrumental will cause your head to mildly nod along to Paul’s lunacy.

Outroduction To Diagnosis Psychosis – The Mad Scientist returns to give shout outs and thanks the listener for listening to Psychoanalysis over an infectious toe tappin’ jazzy piano loop driven backdrop. This instrumental grows more gorgeous with each listen.

Beautiful Night (Automator Remix) – Dan The Automator replaces the cool jazz instrumentation from the o.g. version with dark keyboard, cello and violin chords that match the psychotic patient’s confession much better than the original. And we’re done.

Psychoanalysis (What It Is?) is a kooky ride through the partially perverted, heavily juvenile, one-hundred percent quirky mind of Prince Paul, placed and served over hip-hop beats. Over the course of the album’s eighteen tracks, Prince Paul will make you chuckle with guilt, laugh out loud, question his sanity and please your ears with a dope batch of instrumentals to back his foolish antics and hijinks. There are a few questionable or forgettable moments on Psychoanalysis, but the bulk of it is hysterically fun. If you don’t take Prince Paul’s content too seriously.


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Various Artists – America Is Dying Slowly (June 25, 1996)

If you’re older than ten years old, I’m sure you’re familiar with the dreaded acronyms, HIV and AIDS, and more than likely you know someone who died from the deadly virus. In the late seventies-early eighties, seemingly out of nowhere, AIDS spread like wildfire, becoming a worldwide epidemic that would claim millions of lives throughout the eighties and nineties. I personally lost my uncle to AIDS, and I will never forget the shock and concern I felt in 1991 when Magic Johnson, at his basketball peak, announced to the world that he was HIV positive, which at the time felt like certain death. Thanks to advances in AIDS education and research, Magic is still alive today and testing HIV Positive is no longer the death sentence that it once was thirty years ago. Some of the credit for these advancements must go to organizations like the Red Hot Organization, a non-profit that formed in 1990 to raise money for HIV/AIDS relief and awareness, with one of their fundraising outlets being music. Red Hot would tap artists from different genres to create compilations albums, including the subject of today’s post, America Is Dying Slowly.

America Is Dying Slowly (a title that I’m sure most of you noticed is built around the AIDS acronym) would be the eighth project in the Red Hot compilation series and the first to exclusively feature all hip-hop artists, calling on respected rappers and producers from every region of the country to contribute to the project that the liners notes refers to as “A Soundtrack For Life”. Not only would America Is Dying Slowly help raise money for AIDS awareness, but it would also receive positive reviews, including a stamp of approval from The Source Magazine that called it “a masterpiece.”

I haven’t listened to America Is Dying Slowly in years, so this should be a fun refresher.

No Rubber, No Backstage Pass – The first track of the night pairs The Diabolical Biz Markie (rip) with Chubb Rock over a Prince Paul produced instrumental. The song title might lead you to believe this is going to be a warning about the importance of safe sex, and Chubb Rock eventually touches on the subject at hand during the last few bars of the song, but most of the record features Biz and Chubb spittin’ freestyle bars over Paul’s dope instrumental, built around dueling piano loops: one slightly drunken and the other sounds like a Loony Tunes cartoon character getting their head banged against the same piano key, repeatedly. My only issue with this song is the poor mixing, as it leaves some of Biz and Chubb’s rhymes hard to understand, but other than that, it’s a thumbs up. This one ends with a voice I don’t recognize sharing a few words about the importance of using condoms.

The Yearn – I mentioned a few posts ago during my write up of the Lost Boyz’ Legal Drug Money that there was a version of this song that had an additional verse from Pete Rock (who also produced the song) tacked on at the end. Well, this is it. The song still sounds great, and it fits right into the theme of the album. The song is followed by a quick soundbite from another voice I don’t recognize, that conveniently leaves the “S” off “AIDS” to make the acronym stand for “America Is Dying” as well as “Allah Is Divine,” bleeding (no pun intended) right into the next song.

America – The Wu sends a few of its finest to weigh in on the AIDS epidemic: Killah Priest, Raekwon, Rza, Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck all spits verses about different individuals who chose to go raw and unprotected and ended up with the HIV (I’m not clear on how Rae’s character, Javier contracted HIV: was it the dirty drugs needles or going raw in shorty? Or does Javier have the worst luck in the world and contracted it both ways?). Rza provides an emotional-bluesy canvas and all five clansmen paint quality pics on its surface (at the end of the record, Raekwon shouts out different types of condoms and gives us what may be the funniest adlib in hip-hop history when he says “the ribbed joints is bangin’”). This song ends with a soundbite of Rae talking about the importance of putting a sock on the pickle when it’s time to stickle.

Blood – This was originally a short interlude on Goodie Mob’s debut album, Soul Food. Goodie Mob decided to expound on the idea and turn it into a full-fledge song with the theme calling for Black unity, because “we’re all blood (related)”, and since we know that HIV can be spread through blood exchange, it loosely ties into the theme of the album, right? I like Goodie Mob, but I couldn’t get into this one. Mainly due to the instrumental, which feels like it was so focused on trying to sound pretty that it forgot to sound interesting.

I Breaks ‘Em Off – Coolio completely deviates from the subject at hand and goes off dissin’ emcees and rapping about everything but AIDS. Wino provides steady drums and a thick bass line, while Wah Wah Watson lives up to his alias and laces the track with some funky wah-wah guitar licks. Even with Coolio going completely off topic, I enjoyed this one.

Listen To Me Now – This one begins with a super funky bass guitar solo (if you close your eyes, you can actually see the strings bending as their strummed), then the drums and the rest of the musical elements come in for 8Ball & MJG to get off their bars, rhyming from the perspective of the virus: “I have no face, I have no body, I have no heart, I have no soul, I don’t care if you’re young or if you’re old, here’s my mission, I’m out to get them, those who slippin’, creepin’, while they be creepin’, I be enterin’, into them, silently, violently, that is not me, quietly, you’ll never know I’m in your bloodstream.” And that’s just the opening bars, folks. The Memphis duo proceed to spit vivid lyrics, issuing warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex and the “worldwide plague,” even making biblical references that allegedly, prophesy of AIDS coming into the world. 8Ball & MJG are one of those groups that I’ve never got around to thoroughly diggin’ into their catalog, but this record once again reminded me that I should. The song is followed by another soundbite from Raekwon.

Street Life – L.E.S. deviates from his production norm of looping up obvious r&b samples and creates a grimy and eerie musical atmosphere, punctuated by a soulfully haunting vocal loop that will leave you with goosebumps when listening to this song after midnight. Mobb Deep is joined by their comrade, A.C.D. (I have no idea what those letters stand for…come to think of it, I don’t know what L.E.S. stands for, either), as the three amigos do what Mobb Deep has pretty much done their entire rap career: talk about hood shit. P and their guest sound decent over the devilish track, but Havoc finds his pocket and locks in, as he uncharacteristically, gets off the strongest verse of the record. This song has nothing to do with AIDS (I guess you can reach and say Havoc’s line “My .44 will burn that ass like going raw with nymphos, so protect your lifestyle, rock your vest” ties it in), but regardless, this record is hard and ill (no pun intended) as shit. The song is followed by a soundbite of someone sharing their conspiracy theory about AIDS being man-made (to which I agree) and that someone is getting rich off its creation, which is also an interesting idea.

Games – Money Boss Players was a group out of The Bronx that released a few singles on a few different labels in the late nineties but were never able to establish solid footing in the rap game. For this track they recruit, Minnesota, who hooks up a dramatic stabbing loop that ironically, sounds dry, while MBP discusses fake gangstas and hustlers and sounds just as parched as the music backing them.

Check Ya Self – Ant Banks, Spice 1, Celly Cel, 187 Fac (comprised of Almon D, Den Fenn and G-Nut) and Gangsta P all come together for this Bay Area safe sex PSA. It’s kind of humorous in a not so funny way, how disrespectful the rappers on this song are to the women that allegedly infect the guys with HIV in their stories (they call them “bitches” or “hoes” no less than ten times during the song). The hook (sung by Gruve) is embarrassingly bad and so blunt that its comical. All parties involved get off pretty decent verses and I enjoyed Ant Banks’ funky synthesized backdrop that screams “serious message.” The song is followed by a Spice 1 soundbite, where he discusses Eazy-E’s demise, explaining that he always thought that Eazy would get shot, end up in the pen or “caught up in some other bullshit,” as if living a full life and dying at a ripe old age was never in the cards for Eric Wright. That’s some sad pessimistic shit.

I’ve Been Thinking – Common is joined by his homie Sean Lett (I wonder what happened to him) as the two emcees reflect on life, get introspective and rep for Chicago. No ID lays down swingy drums and places a dope slightly distorted, partially out-of-tune piano loop over them, which works as the perfect companion piece for the two Chicagoans to let their stream of consciousness flow over it. This is easily one of my favorite songs on the album.

Decisions – Organized Konfusion weighs in on the subject at hand. Over a melodically airy backdrop, Pharoahe Monch uses his verse to compare the object of his erection to chicken (but he makes sure to put on a “rubber glove” before he cooks), while Prince Poe shares a more intricate story about a chick named Yvette, who told him about a girl named Shante and her ex-husband who “needle pops” and… I got lost in the details of his story at that point. Even with Poe’s confusing (no pun intended) storyline, I still enjoyed this one.

The Hustle – Da Beatminerz and De La Soul join forces for this record. I’m a fan of both De La and Da Beatminerz, and while this song wasn’t terrible, it looks better on paper than it actually sounds.

What I Represent – Representing the Diggin In The Crates crew: Buckwild hooks up a beautiful soulful groove for O.C., who calls for more love and affection in hip-hop on one hand and then disses rappers on the other (“Being in the state of mass consumption in this game it’s like drugs, only quantity is run throughout, quality is walking through the valley of the reaper, true deceivers, are coming through your receivers”). Despite the mixed messaging, O sounds solid over Buckwild’s feel good instrumental, and the Q-Tip vocal sample on the hook takes care of Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post (FYI, we could have taken care of Tribe Degrees of Separation on the previous song when Trugoy shouts out Phife (rip) during his final verse, but this will suffice). The song is followed by more colorful Spice 1 commentary.

Nasty Hoes – Now this is an interesting pairing. Sadat X and Fat Joe team up to discuss the importance of protecting yourself against nasty AIDS infected hoes. Joe truly grew as an emcee after his debut album, Represent (that he himself has openly admitted he sucked on), as he steals the show with a colorful verse about a one-night stand with a chick named Sixty-Nine (who he says looks “Halle Berryish”) that he met at a club and intentionally tries to give him AIDS (I literally lol’d when I heard him end his verse by saying “Practice safe sex never flex unprotected, I don’t really got AIDS it’s just a muthafucka record”). Its too bad Diamond D didn’t provide a stronger instrumental so Joe’s verse could shine brighter.

Sport That Raincoat – Domino offers up a safe sex PSA, not to be confused with his other safe sex PSA song, titled, “Raincoat” from his self-titled debut album. D pretty much covers the same territory as his previous safe sex joint, but this one is backed with an upbeat manufactured funk instrumental instead of the smooth soulful groove that backed the former. It’s not a great record, but not bad enough to make me hit the skip button, either.

Suckas P.H. – The final song of the night features the Bay Area cult favorite, Mac Mall, who’s focused on getting paid and calling out all the suckas that player hate, hence the “P.H.” in the song title. Kevin Gardner (who also sings on the hook) and Redwine are credited with producing this semi-decent instrumental, but I wasn’t feelin’ the slang Mr. Mall was putting down over it.

It’s always cool to see rappers from both coasts and all points in between coming together to support an important cause, and there aren’t too many more important causes that effected as many lives from the black and brown communities like AIDS did at the tail end of the twentieth century (it’s also worth noting that this was done during the height of the east coast/west coast beef, when hip-hop was super territorial). What’s even more remarkable is when those rappers serve justice to the cause that untied them by giving the public quality music. America Is Dying Slowly showcases a wide array of hip-hop artists that mostly hit on the subject at hand and manage to cover the topic without sounding preachy or corny, keeping the content raw and gritty, and at times, extremely blunt. There are a few moments of lukewarmness but overall, America Is Dying Slowly is an enjoyable smorgasbord of hip-hop songs that will keep you entertained and hopefully, serve as a reminder to stay safe and protected.


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Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal (June 18, 1996)

Before I start this post, I want to send my condolences to all the families that lost a child during the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, TX last week. I can’t imagine the pain you’re experiencing right now, and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

After Black Moon laid the foundation for the Boot Camp Clik with their monumental 1993 debut album, Enta Da Stage, they would pass the baton to Smif-N-Wessun who would continue to build on the BCC legacy with another damn near flawless work in the form of their 1995 debut album, Dah Shinin’. With two classic albums under their collective belts, the Brooklyn New York based collective would introduce the world to the next chapter and third installment of the BCC: Ruck (better known as Sean Price (rip)) and Rock (aka Rockness, aka Da Rockness Monsta), aka Ruckus and Rockness, aka Sparkski and Dutch, but professional known as Heltah Skeltah. They would release their debut album, Nocturnal, in the summer of 1996.

Unlike Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin’, which were both entirely produced by Da Beatminerz, Heltah Skeltah would call on the minerz of beats to produce about half of Nocturnal, letting a few other hands take care of the rest of the album. Nocturnal would render three singles, peaking at thirty-five on the Billboard’s Top 200 and five on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. Even though the album wasn’t a commercial success it did receive positive reviews from most of the critics. (By the way, Ruck’s shoutouts in the liner notes for Nocturnal are hi-larious!).

But the question of the day is: would it stand up to the BCC projects that came before?

Intro (Here We Come) – The first thing you hear on Nocturnal is a male voice saying, “What the hell was your dick doing in the milk, man?” (Not to be confused with “milkman,” which would give the question and answer completely different context), which has to be the weirdest start to any album in the history of music. Then a basic drum beat, accompanied by slick “wah wah” guitar licks (credited to Lord Jamar and Buckshot Shorty) and a faint posse war chant (“Here we come”) comes in, followed by the voice of Starang Wondah (aka Gunn Clappa Number One, who makes up one-third of OGC aka the Originoo Gunn Clappaz), who explains the meaning of the word “nocturnal” and introduces the listener to the album. Then Rock takes the floor and gets off a few bars in his distinctive deep baritone vocal tone, delivered with his robotic-reggaeish flow to warm things up for the evening.

Letha Brainz Blo – Baby Paul laces Heltah Skeltah with a slick symphonic backdrop, while Ruck and Rock give us our first full dosage of their one-two punch, and they don’t disappoint. The thugged-out hook (“if you grin, we’ll let your brains blow”) is hi-larious to me, but I’ve got a slightly twisted sense of humor, so don’t mind me.

Undastand – The melodic sample that Baby Paul sprinkles this instrumental with is the audio equivalent of manna falling from heaven, and it lands perfectly on top of his rugged drums, as Heltah Skeltah declares and wages war on all rappers within earshot. Speaking of heaven, whoever owned the publishing rights to the sampled record (“Soul Girl” by Jeanne & the Darlings) and gave clearance must have been a rigid God-fearing religious person, as all of Ruck and Rock’s curses are edited out of the song. But the censorship doesn’t subtract from the duo’s relentless barrage of quality rhymes and the creamy goodness of the track.

Who Dat? – Ruck and Rock each get off a quick verse over a relaxed but devious sounding Buckshot produced instrumental. It sounds like both emcees are spittin’ “off the top of the dome” freestyles on this one, and they both sound solid. Rock gets interrupted mid-verse by a knock at the door, and that bleeds right into the next song…

Sean Price – Based on the song title, I was sure this was going to be a Ruckus solo joint, but instead, Sean turns it into a duet as he invites his buddy, Illa Noyz (which is a dope alias by the way) to join him on the track. Illa’s flow and delivery give off hood Shakespeare vibes (in a good way), while Ruck continues to impress with braggadocious bully raps, and he adds a tipsy Dancehall-esque style chant on the hook, which works well with the drowsy dimly lit instrumentation.

Clan’s, Posse’s, Crew’s & Clik’s – This one starts with Evil Dee’s thick bending bass line and Rock spotting “six bitch ass niggas on the corner.” Then the drums drop, and Sparkski and Dutch proceed to talk their shit, threatening to beat up and shoot up all “clans, posses, crews and clicks,” and disrespectfully, invite them all to suck upon their private parts on the hook. I miss good old fashion bully rap like this.

Therapy – This was the third single released from Nocturnal. Rock plays a man struggling with his violent thoughts, so he seeks help from (wait for it…) Dr. Kill Patient, played by Ruck, who doesn’t even know what he specializes in (after he introduces himself to Rock at the beginning of the song, he hi-lariously mumbles about being “your psycho…sick…sadomasochistic…). Dr. Kill Patient starts the session off by offering Rock a “six pack and a spliff,” before asking him a series of blunt (no pun intended) questions (i.e., “Have you been touched the wrong way? Involved in gun play? Did your momma beat you?”) and accusing him of being a crackhead. Rock begins to make progress during the second verse when he thinks back to “the nineties, that’s when life got extra grimy”, which he later identifies was fueled by his “eighties anger”, brought on by feeling abandoned by his biological family (there’s some deep shit to unpack here!), to which the good doctor haphazardly, recommends “prescribed poetry that people perceive as potent” (aka dope hip-hop music). Baby Paul’s melodically soothing instrumental, along with the lovely vocals of the beautiful Ms. Vinia Mojica (who most of us were introduced to on The Low End Theory’s “Verses From The Abstract” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check)) on the hook, complete this underrated gem of a record that Charlamagne Tha God could use as his theme music.

Place To Be – More battle/bully raps over a hard beat.

Soldiers Gone Psyco – If I had to leave one song off Nocturnal it would probably be this one. It’s not a bad song, it’s just not as strong as some of the other joints on the album.

The Square (Triple R) – Supreme builds this instrumental around urgently epic sounding keyboard chords, while Heltah Skeltah invites the Representativz (comprised of Rock’s little brother, Lidu Rock, and Steele’s (from Smif-N-Wessun) cousin and the producer of this track, Supreme The Eloheem) to join them on the track, weaving all the verses together with another clever violent hook. This was sick, and definitely one of my favorite records on Nocturnal.

Da Wiggy – If I had to pick a second song to leave off Nocturnal it would be this one.

Gettin Ass Gettin Ass – Heltah Skeltah provides a little comic relief with this interlude. Ruck calls up a chick (played by Vinia Mojica) that he’s been trying to bone, while a super thirsty (borderline perverted) Rock listens to his buddy’s conversation, laughing in the background and repeatedly asks Ruck to ask the chick if she has a friend, to which Ruck hi-lariously keeps ignoring as he spits game to the object of his erection.

Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka – This was the lead single from Nocturnal and one of the few songs I remember from back in the day, even though I’ve never been able to pronounce the third word in the song title. All three legs of the Originoo Gunn Clappaz (Starang Wondah, Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog) join Rock and Ruck, as all five emcees take turns verbally bashing Baby Paul’s beautiful instrumental in the face. The soothing bass line in this joint is guaranteed to leave you in a trance.

Prowl – Mr. Walt builds this backdrop around a chilling loop taken from the music from the Mission Impossible TV show, as Heltah Skeltah and Louieville Sluggah rep for the nighttime, spreading light and “smacking the shit out of a few ignorant motherfuckers” along the way. Ruck almost sounds bored as he effortlessly spews bars, delivering the best verse of the song: “I devour, niggas who want to test me and defy me, it my Giuliani or the Illuminati, but I be writing plans of attack in my journal, so Ruck, Rock, ‘Ville Sluggah remain nocturnal, seeing through sheisty shit, shining like I’m solar, penetrate through darkness, bounce like I’m sonar”. This is a tough record.

Grate Unknown – Ruck got a solo joint earlier in the evening, so it’s only right that Rock gets one as well. Unlike Ruck (who does introduce his partner in rhyme at the beginning of the song) who had a guest join him on his dolo mission, Rock solely nibbles on this soulful slow-rolling instrumental (credited to Shaleek, who received his first and only other production credit of the night for Ruck’s joint “Sean Price”) that comes equipped with a haunting female vocal, properly sprinkled on the hook. This was nice.

Operation Lockdown – This was the second single from Nocturnal. E-Swift from Tha Alkaholiks builds this silky-smooth backdrop around a luscious harp loop taken from an old George Benson record, as Heltah Skeltah takes one last swing, landing a final blow on the chin of the competition. Buckshot finally shows his face (or voice), but only in the form of a few adlibs. It would have been nice to hear Buck add a verse next to his BCC bredrin, but the record is still dope without it.

Hidden Track – Heltah Skeltah brings back the previous instrumental from “Operation Lock Down” for this hidden Outro. Ruck plays a Dominican accented cat named DeJesus (who sounds a lot like David “Big Papi” Ortiz) who shares his perspective on the current state of hip-hop and based on his opinion from over twenty-five years ago, I’m sure he would hate what most of the music sounds like today. This was hi-larious, and a great way to end the album.

Heltah Skeltah doesn’t give you a bunch of variety on Nocturnal. Just a steady dose of hard beats, violent battle bars aimed at everybody who is not a part of the Boot Camp Clik, and a little comic relief sprinkled in to break up the constant barrage of east coast thuggery; and I enjoyed most of it. Ruck and Rock are both formidable emcees (with Ruck being the more skilled), who might be the strongest lyricists in the BCC not named Buckshot Shorty (I’d be willing to argue that Sean Price was iller than Buckshot, but that’s a conversation for another day). Nocturnal may not be as revered as Enta Da Stage and Dah Shinin’, but it’s a great debut album from an underappreciated duo who I believe were more than capable of living out the violence they inflict in their rhymes.


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Heather B – Takin Mine (June 11, 1996)

The first time I ever heard Heather B rhyme was on “7 Dee Jays” off BDP’s Edutainment album back in 1990. After D-Nice kicks the song off with a verse full of player/pimp rhetoric, Heather slides in second and aggressively spits conscious bars that find her on the verge of slicing the oppressor with razors, dissin’ Margaret Thatcher and “bustin’ shots for South Africa.” A year later she would get a solo joint on the H.E.A.L. Project, Civilization Vs. Technology (which was a pretty dope record), and in 1992 she would make history becoming the first Black woman on the first season of the first ever reality TV show (damn, that’s a lot of firsts), The Real World: New York. The show would make history, changing the course of television programming forever, and I’d be willing to bet it helped Heather land a deal with EMI, where she would release her debut album, Takin Mine in June of ‘96.

Staying loyal to her Boogie Down Production crew, HB would call on KRS-One’s little brother and BDP member, Kenny Parker, to produce nine of the ten tracks on Takin Mine, with Da Beatminerz producing the lone loosey. Takin Mine would produce three singles, with one of them turning into a hood classic (more on that in a bit), and the album would go on to have modest success, reaching thirty-six on the Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Charts.

I remember a few of the singles from Takin Mine, but I didn’t buy or listen to the album back in the day. A few years ago, I did find a used cd copy at a bookstore and now is the perfect time to crack it open and give a few spins.

FYI: Heather B does specifically, shoutout “Jarobi & Phife” in the album’s liner notes, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Da Heartbreaka – Don’t let the song title fool you. Heather’s not breaking hearts romantically with this song, but instead she uses this opening track to rip the heart out of wack emcees, with Kenny Parker as her accomplish, as he lays down a stripped-down boom bap beat to back her shit talk. Unfortunately, her rhymes don’t deliver what her enthusiasm sells, and Kenny’s backdrop matches her bars in mediocrity.

All Glocks Down – This was the lead single from Takin Mine, and the hood classic that I mentioned in the intro that will forever be Heather B’s crown jewel. Kenny Parker puts a hard drum beat underneath a dope flip of a sample from The Stylistics” People Make The World Go Round,” turning the combination into a certified banger. Heather spits decent rhymes and adds a catchy high energy hook (that really has nothing to do with her bars), but Kenny’s instrumental is so fire that Alvin & The Chipmunks would sound decent rapping over it. Side note: the video for this song features a young Omar Epps wildin’ out, uncontrollably nodding his head as he listens to the hard beat while playing NBA Live on the Sega Genesis (Oh, what memories), which I found super hi-larious.

If Headz Only Knew – For the backdrop, Kenny combines a sturdy drum beat with a bellowing bass line and a loop of what sounds like a dramatic laser beam, while HB disses Tempest Bledsoe’s short-lived talk show (remember that?), talks more shit, and gets off a pretty solid metaphor that compares her freestyle to a game of basketball during the third verse. This was actually pretty decent.

My Kinda Nigga – M.O.P. drops by and joins Heather for this cipher session that has the trio trying to out bully rap each other and out grimy Kenny’s manufactured gutter production. Unfortunately, the record doesn’t have enough grime of gutter to give it much replay value.

Takin Mine – The title track is an inspirational one that finds our hostess determined to make it in the industry despite her doubters and the challenges thrown her way. KP backs HB’s bars with a somber-esque backdrop that nicely brings it all together like a zipper on a butter leather. Shoutout to the legendary, Black Thought.

Mad Bent – HB only spends a portion of her verses (and the hook) focused on getting drunk and high. The rest of the song is dedicated to her trying her damnedest to spit fire, as she continues to scream her bars, unnecessarily extending her voice. KP’s backdrop sounded bland my first few times threw Takin Mine but grows on me the more I listen to it.

Sendin ‘Em Back – Kenny serves up some dark devilish boom-bap and Heather puts together arguably, her strongest bars of the album, as she continues to talk her shit with bars that appear to be aimed at her female counterparts: “I chip tooths, knockin ’em loose at one time, that’s for all them hoes that don’t write they own rhymes, repeat after me, ‘Heather B, Heather B’, lyrically, lyrically got all these hoes shook, What, you think you can’t get yo title took? You are not the type to even hold a mic, you rhyme, but I write, you fuss but I fight, I am all the truth, and you are all the fuckin’ hype.” And they claim that men are responsible for pitting female emcees against each other. Regardless, this is easily one of the strongest songs on Takin Mine.

No Doubt – Average mid-grade boom bap.

Real Niggaz Up – Heather invites a few of her 54th Regiment bredrin (Thorough Ass Bo and Tone 2000) to join her on this cipher session, as all three parties spew competent rhymes over Da Beatminerz average and discretely rugged instrumental. That’s all I got.

What Goes On – HB dedicates the last song of the night to all the thorough brothers aka “noccas” out there. Her “noccas” include her homeboys and possible romantic prospects, which she has some pretty interesting criteria for (basically, he has to be a shirtless, Hilfiger boxer-fatigue wearing drug dealer who provides her with an endless supply of weed). Kenny loops us Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness,” which is nearly impossible to mess up, but he comes damn near close to doing that with his watered-down flip of the sample. This one was pretty weak.

The conscious Heather B that I was first introduced to on “7 Dee Jays” and the H.E.A.L. Project is completely missing from Takin Mine. Instead, HB uses most of the album’s ten tracks to smoke, drink, fight, rep her 54th Regiment crew, call out chicks that don’t write their own rhymes, and just talk regular emcee shit. Most of Heather’s rhymes are decent, but her voice sounds strained throughout the album as she over aggressively delivers her lines and sounds a little uncomfortable in her flow. The production on Takin Mine is a consistent batch of boom bap joints, but with the exception of the undeniable banger that is “All Glocks Down,” they’re average at best, lacking heart and soul.

On “No Doubt” Heather shares her dream of wanting to be “More Illmatic than Nas.” She clearly didn’t achieve that goal with Takin Mine, but she did end up marrying Nas’ childhood friend and Braveheart crew member, Big Horse, so that should count for something, right?


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