Chuck D – Autobiography Of MistaChuck (October 22. 1996)

Mistachuck – The album opens with a clip from the Spike Lee Joint, Clockers, where a few brothers are debating whether Chuck D is dope or not, and one of the guys (played by Fredro Starr from Onyx) thinks Chuck sucks as a rapper and goes as far as to call Chuck a bitch ass nigga. Then after a few adlibs from our host, a diabolical soulful groove drops and Chuck addresses his haters, boasts about his frugalness (“I don’t care for Range Rovers, cause the price is too high and I feel ‘em gettin’ over”) and humbly reminds us that his track “record speaks for itself.” I like the sonically big energy of the track (the futuristic laser beam like breaks in between the second and third verses are sick) and “the voice that got muscles in it” actually sounds nice rhyming over this soulful dish.

No – Chuck sticks with the soulful vibes from the previous track, as he and Mark “Mr. Elite” Harrison cook up a mid-tempo bop that he uses to list all the things the world would be a better place without (which in his opinion includes the whole DeBarge family…damn, Chuck). I like the instrumental, but Chuck’s flow sounds a little disjointed, and his bars were underwhelming.

Generation Wrekkked – Chuck continues to defend his name and legacy on this one: “Now I’m the one who flew over the Cuckoo’s nest and tested, and wasn’t ever bulletproof vested, resurrection of the one-man vocal section, spirit in your dark ass direction, for your mind, body and soul protection.” I like Chuck’s refrain (“If I can’t change the people around me, I change the people around me,” which would later become the title for one of his solo albums) and the stripped-down James Brown-esque break beat paired with Kyle “Ice” Jason’s very Curtis Mayfield influenced hook was decent, but Chuck once again sounds uncomfortable rhyming over this beat.

Niggativity…Do I Dare Disturb The Universe? – Chuck definitely sounds more comfy rhyming on this unnerving and scarce backdrop that finds him declaring “The rhyme animal has resurfaced, wreckin’ all elements, destroyin’ all irrelevance,” as he uses the next three verses to awaken his people from their mental slumber. This one end with a snippet of the Flip Squad (not to be confused with Busta Rhymes’ Flip Mode Squad, the Flip Squad, comprised of K.K. Holiday, Bootleg and Lady Gi, hosted the 6-10pm drive time show for the pioneering Atlanta Hip-hop station, 97.5 FM) showing love to Chuck D and the album.

Free Big Willie – Chuck and ‘em loop up a little Isley Brothers to create this soulful set that finds our legendary host, still very confident but a little salty (a portion of the hook says: “Although I’m feelin’ alright, it’s feelin’ funny feeling left out”), and the salt has seeped in his wounds enough to once again make him address his naysayers and defend his legacy: “Got more hits then Pete Rose when he played for the Reds, now they be on anything Deion intercepts…Back like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, who forgot it was him, who parlayed the styles of KRS and Rakim, and brought it to different level, against the so-called devil, who had the nerve to throw a bell curve and test me, arrest me.” Talk your shit, Chuck.

Horizontal Heroin – Whatever rift Professor Griff (bars!) and Chuck D had after Griff left Public Enemy (or got kicked out) was apparently squashed by 1996, as he stars on this track and gets off a conscious spoken word poem.

Talk Show Created The Fool – Some off y’all might be too young to remember, but years before Reality TV shows (which in reality are just as fictional as scripted TV shows) took over television programming, there was a time when salacious daytime talk shows were all the rave. Over a drearily moody backdrop, Chuck and his guests, Abnormal (who’s also credit for the instrumental) and C. Brewser call out talk show hosts that they feel were exploiting people (shoutout to Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake and Montel Williams) and reprimand the clowns who go on these shows seeking fifteen minutes of fame. An uncredited male vocalist does his best Curtis Mayfield impersonation on the hook (I don’t think it’s Mr. Jason from “Generation Wrekkked,” though) and the sarcastic refrain (“laziness is in the house, slobs with no jobs is in the house”) is hi-larious. The song is followed by another Flip Squad skit, where Da Brat makes a brief appearance.

Underdog – Over a gray understatedly jazzy backdrop, Chuck goes from once being hip-hop royalty to assuming the role of an elder statesman underdog with his back against the wall, defending his rep but still feeding us thought food: “Ashes to ashes, blunts to blunts, some of these G’s ain’t real, I seen ‘em once, upon a time, so many rhymers and not enough rhymes, I hope they around next year, but I fear, I’m all-time, and I’m down for the roughness, but what good is a rhyme without substance?” By the way, I think French Montana got his signature “Hah” adlib from the intro of this song.

But Can You Kill The Nigger In You? – This one starts with a movie snippet of a couple of white men talking about the difference between indentured bond servants and Black slaves, before the song starts and in his own pessimistic roundabout way, Mr. Chuck calls for Black unity in the community. The legendary Isaac Hayes (rip) pops in and adds a few words, notes and a little instrumentation to reinforce our host’s sentiments. Kudos for the uplifting message, but this wasn’t it.

Endonesia – Chuck introduces and invites a couple of guests to join him on this cipher session: B-Wyze and Dow Jonz (whose delivery vaguely reminds me of DMX). The trio take a break away from conscious content and get into some good old fashion boastful freestyles (which includes a clever verse from B-Wyze that references no less than twenty-one different movie titles). All though hes’ obviously isn’t our host’s strong point, and his guests rap circles around him, but Chuck’s hook and hard instrumental (with a co-credit going to Gerald “Soul G” Stevens) are the true star of this one. This is followed by another Flip Squad skit.

The Pride – Over more soulful instrumentation, Mr. Chuck reminisces about his childhood, recalling different Black historical figures, organizations and events that helped mold him into who he is today, because as he so simply puts it: “There is no IS without a WAS.” To hear Chuck D say he was in third grade when MLK was assassinated is stark reminder that the civil rights movement wasn’t that long ago. Time is truly, illmatic.

Paid – After one final Flip Squad skit, the last song of the evening features more guest cameos, as Mr. Chuck invites Kendu and Melquan to join him on this one. His guests (who sound like standard backpack rappers) must have missed the memo about the song’s concept, as they both spit random freestyles, while Chuck stays on task, advocating for rappers to get paid by the record companies for their music. Chuck’s bars were noble, but this record was completely unnecessary. If you stick around until the nine minute-twenty second mark (or fast forward to it) you can hear Chuck get off what he calls “The Ten Resentments of the Industry” delivered in two different demonically distorted voices over the most lazy and random organ chords, which added absolutely nothing to the album.

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Jeru The Damaja – Wrath Of The Math (October 15, 1996)

After making a few impactful cameos on a couple of Gang Starr records, The Gang Starr Foundation member, Jeru The Damaja would sign a solo deal with Payday Records and in 1994 released his debut album, The Sun Rises In The East. Fueled by its monster first single that paired Jeru’s articulately conscious battle rhymes with Premo’s abstract banger (which is absolutely one of the greatest hip-hop beats of all-time), The Sun Rises received pounds of praise, and many considered the Jeru/DJ Premier collab effort to be a classic album, and I’m not mad at that sentiment. After a two-year break, Jeru would return with his sophomore effort, Wrath Of The Math.

In Wrath’s liner notes, Jeru makes his vision for the album clear, as it reads: “This album was created to SAVE hip-hop and the minds of people who listen to it.” And Mr. Damaja obviously subscribes to the old adage of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” as he once again tasks the legendary DJ Premier to exclusively sculpt the sound of the album. When you’re an emcee releasing an album with such a righteous motive during a time when gangsta/thug rap was dominating the genre and charts, the chances for commercial success were slim to none. Wrath would fall on the none side of the spectrum, but it did receive mostly positive reviews upon its release.

It’s been a hot minute since I last listened to Wrath but come on guys. Can you really make a bad album when arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all-time is the maestro and your album cover is sky blue?

Wrath Of The Math – Jeru kicks things off with a lecture on the “mental attitude,” delivered in his Earl Ray Jonesish voice over an ominously dark loop and mid-tempo drums. I don’t agree with his philosophy on “mental attitude,” as it completely neglects the emotional aspect of things, but that’s a discussion for another day. Whether you agree with his theory or not, I think we all can agree that Jeru would make a great professor at somebody’s university. Preferably an HBCU.

Tha Frustrated Nigga – This was originally released on the Pump Ya Fist compilation album (the project that was “inspired by The Black Panthers,” but not to be confused with the Panther Soundtrack, which “coincidentally” was a movie about the Black Panthers that came out around the same time as the Pump Ya Fist project). Premo slices up and places what sounds like a weeping string (maybe a fiddle?) loop over a bouncy bass line and choppy drums and adds well-placed vocal snippets on the hook (I love the Richard Pryor one) to form the perfect soundscape for Jeru to share his perspective on America through the eyes of a frustrated nigga. Powerful and meaty way to start the evening.

Black Cowboys – Jeru follows up the conscious message from the previous song by firing back at the Fugees (who seemed to fire the first shot when Pras spat “No matter who you damage, you’re still a false prophet” on “Zealots” from The Score) and spits one of the illest opening lines of any battle record (“I heard some emcees wanna bring it, but a female is one of their strongest men, when I step to you don’t seek refuge, make it happen, fuck the rappin’”) and later gets off a hilarious rhyme aimed at Wyclef: “Once I met up with this Bandolero, why’d he make me bust him in his head with his banjo?” Premo’s slightly animated backdrop decorated with clever soundbites and a zany cartoonish gun sample, leads you to believe that whatever beef Jeru had with the Fugees wasn’t too serious.

Tha Bullshit – Jeru takes a jab at all the gangsta/mafioso/materialistic bullshit that started flooding hip-hop in the mid-nineties. Over Premo’s bright good-spirited piano loop driven instrumental, J shares his dream of being a drug dealing kingpin, selling death to his community, but living prosperous off his uncivilized lifestyle with glistening diamonds, bad hookers in bikinis, a million-dollar jet, a million-dollar yacht, a squad of killer bitches that all carry Uzis and a Rolls Royce to show for it. It all sounds amazing until rivals come after him with gunfire, abruptly awakening him from his dream…or should I call it a nightmare?

Whatever – I’ve always wondered who Jeru was talking about during the song’s intro where he says, “There’s a lotta muthafuckas out here with a style similar to mine, nowadays.” The first person to come to mind was Outloud from Blahzay Blahzay, but being they sampled Jeru’s voice on their biggest hit, “Danger” and J even appeared in the video, I’d assume the two Brooklyn emcees were cool and the biting accusation wasn’t aimed at the Blah’s front man. Then again, “Danger” did come out almost a full year before Wrath, so J and Outloud could have fell out in the in between time. For shits and giggles, we’ll assume Jeru was talking about Outloud and we’ll add Pras to give us two of the “a lotta’s” referenced in the song’s intro, but who were the rest accused of infiltrating the camp and claiming our host’s style? Anyhoo…Jeru uses Premo’s smoothly subdued slightly blunted track (built around the same Esther Phillips sample Q-Tip used for Mobb Deep’s “Give Up The Goods” from The Infamous album -Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) to flaunt his “strategically mathematical” style and verbally damage his imitators and rivals, and he sounds elegantly convincing in the process. I love the enthusiastic Onyx vocal sample on the hook and the “fuck ya mind up like Joe Jackson kids” line was superb.

Physical Stamina – In ‘94, Jeru and his apprentice, Afu-Ra displayed their “Mental Stamina.” This time around they’re bringing it to you physically. Premo mixes futuristic computerized sounds with rock-tinged-guitars to back the duo’s refined verbal assault. I’ll admit, back in the day I didn’t care for Premo’s instrumental, as it sounded like a bunch of clunky noise, but today the unorthodox groove sounds amazing. I still prefer Mental Stamina, though.

One Day – Prem builds this instrumental around an eerie classical violin loop that serves as the accomplice for Jeru’s “Who dunnit?” mystery. Reminiscent of Common’s classic, “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” Jeru paints hip-hop as a man who’s been kidnapped and he, Afu-Ra and Premo are on the case to bring him back home safely. The fellas do complete the mission, but Puffy, Suge Knight, Jay Black (who was Bad Boy’s head of Marketing & Promotions at the time) and Foxy Brown and her fake alligator boots, all catch shots along the way.

Revenge Of The Prophet (Part 5) – On The Sun Rises, Jeru introduced us to The Prophet, a superhero whose mission was to rid the world of his arch nemesis, Ignorance and his ignorant band of henchmen. Premo scores this episode with a pompous string loop over boom bap drums, as Jeru, I mean, The Prophet, is focused on bringing down Ignorance’s right-hand man, Tricknology and his flunky, Greedy Lou. Other than Greedy Lou dying early in the story and later randomly resurrecting, only for The Prophet to kill him again, Jeru’s storyline was pretty decent. I am curious when and where The Prophet episodes two through four were released, though.

Scientifical Madness – This one starts with a cool jazzy break that sounds like the perfect theme music for a nice evening pimp stroll. Then Premo drops an urgent sounding instrumental, while Jeru stands firmly on his soapbox, mainly addressing man intentionally and unintentionally tinkering with the natural scientifical order of things (i.e., the hole in the ozone layer, bioengineered mutated chickens, man-made diseases, chemical warfare/population control and artificial insemination), but he also touches on conspiracy theories and throws a few more jabs at all these superficial rappers running rampant. This is definitely one of my least favorite records on Wrath, but it’s still decent.

Not Tha Average – This is one of my personal favorite Jeru records. Our host, who can’t help but sound serious with a voice like his, gets as playful as you’ll hear him get, spinning three humorous stories about three different women (Yolanda, Tamika and Sabrina) who didn’t realize who they were fuckin’ with, literally and figuratively. Premo’s grimy instrumental is just as entertaining as Jeru’s rhymes. I’ve never heard a jazz piano loop sound so thuggish.

Me Or The Papes – This one kind of picks up where “Da Bichez” left off. Premo flips a beautiful twinkling jazz piano loop and Jeru comes off like a man in search of love, but his paranoia and frugalness are barriers that keep him from finding his true Queen. Honestly, calling Jeru frugal is being nice, this dude sounds like a certified cheapskate. He doesn’t even want to buy a drink at the bar for a woman he just had a nice conversation with; and just because a woman likes nice things and asks you what you do for a living doesn’t necessarily make her a gold digger. Oh, and Puffy catches another arbitrary shot on this one. I enjoyed hearing from jaded Jeru and seeing the usually guarded emcee show a little vulnerability was nice.

How I’m Livin’ – Premo pairs a seductive piano loop with a grumpy bass line that sounds like it was abruptly awaken from a deep sleep, as Jeru makes outlandish but entertaining boasts, like: being conceived in the center of an inferno, out running a jaguar, sleeping in a lion’s den and escaping without a scar, and having the uncanny ability to “Stroke all night and not bust a nut,” and honestly, I’m not sure if that last one’s a gift or a curse.

Too Perverted – Jeru must be one of the smartest and most articulate emcees to ever grace the mic. I mean, what other rapper do you know that would rhyme “Curse Caligula, but graceful like calligraphy”? Premo matches J’s lyrical dexterity with a bleakly blunted backdrop (tongue twist that!) that has a hypnotic quality, and it sounds even better while driving in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. I speak from experience.

Ya Playin’ Yaself – This was the lead single from Wrath. Jeru gets back on his soapbox to call out all the rappers who promote violence and drugs and worship money and materialism: “Now, I don’t push a Lex, others had their turn to flex, Jeru is up next, all these so-called players up in the rap game, got brothers on the corner selling cooked cocaine, it used to be Latoya and Jim hats, but now it’s Uzis, Macs and G-packs of crack, everybody’s psycho or some type of good fellow, but me I keep it real that’s on swine like Jello.” Jeru momentarily takes his foot off the necks of these “so-called players” and uses the second verse to address the ladies whom he thinks dress too promiscuous and hi-lariously instructs them to “put some clothes on that ass if you respect yourself.” Premo’s bouncy backdrop is guaranteed to keep you vibin’ while you listen to Jeru’s judgment and reprimanding.

Invasion – This one begins with a short skit that finds Jeru in a heated exchange with a couple of overly aggressive cops during a routine traffic stop that ends with Jeru speeding away and the cops firing shots at him. Then Premo showers the listener’s ears with a sweetly melodic boom bap groove that Jeru uses to examine the tumultuous relationship between young Black men and police, accented by a dope Nas snippet on the hook. This was originally released on The New Jersey Drive Vol. 2 Soundtrack in ‘95, but it works as a nice tacked on bonus joint. The album ends briefly revisiting the instrumental from the opening track.

On Wrath Of The Math, Jeru splits his time between two separate roles. By day, he’s a mild-mannered emcee out to proof that he’s lyrically nice, down for verbal pugilism and can bust your ass with well-articulated scientifical rhyme schemes. By night, he’s a Black superhero, protected with a breastplate of righteousness and armed with wisdom and knowledge of self, out to save hip-hop and the Black community from the clutches of ignorance. And Puffy.

Jeru plays both roles well, consistently spewing razor sharp bars full of consciousness and intellect, delivered in his Shakespearean-like cadence and authoritative vocal tone. And of course, Premo delivers on the production end, scoring Math with an ill batch of boom bap slaps that will keep your head bobbin’ while you revisit and dissect Jeru’s well-thought-out rhymes. Wrath’s content doesn’t expand beyond anything Jeru didn’t previously cover on The Sun Rises (and with all off its sequel records, it could have easily been titled The Sun Rises In The East 2), nor does it come with a high-powered single like “Come Clean,” but it’s still a really good album from the dynamic duo.

For years, Nas has teased us with whispers of a collab album with Premo (he even recently rapped about it on “30” from King’s Disease III), and I’m completely here for that. And now that Premo and Jeru have patched things up, I’d be just as eager to get one more collab effort from them as well.

-Deedub

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Poor Righteous Teachers – The New World Order (October 15, 1996)

By 1996, the Poor Righteous Teachers were already wily veterans in the game with three group albums under their belt, all chalked full of conscious content. Their first two releases, Holy Intellect and Pure Poverty, were both uneven listens with a few dope records on them, and while their 1993 release, Black Business, didn’t have any big records on it, in my opinion, it was their most quality of the first three. 1996 would see Wise Intelligent venturing off into his solo career, releasing his first solo album, Killin’ U…For Fun in March, before reuniting with his PRT bredrin to release the group’s fourth album and subject of today’s post, New World Order, in October.

New World Order would be the first PRT album to not include production work from their longtime collaborative partner, Tony D (rip), the white boy who always managed to serve the Black militant trio some heat (he produced the biggest hit in the PRT catalog, “Rock Dis Funky Joint”). This time around, PRT would keep the production mostly in-house with Father Shaheed (rip) and Culture Freedom receiving credit for most of the album’s music and a few other special guests would lend helping hands and beats. NWO would also include more cameos than any of PRT’s prior three albums, and it would be the Trenton trio’s first album to not crack the Billboard Top 200.

NWO would be the last album released under the PRT umbrella, as Wise Intelligent would continue to release music independently as a solo artist. I didn’t buy NWO when it came out in ‘96, and it would be well over a decade before I’d find and buy a used copy on eBay. I’m sure I’ve listened to the album at least once since I bought it, but I can’t remember much about it. So, without further ado…

Who Shot The President? (Intro) – The album opens with a snippet from President Daddy Bush’s 1991 State of The Union Address speech where he infamously mentions a “New World Order.” The speech is suddenly interrupted by the sound of helicopter propellers and gunshots, hinting at Daddy Bush gettin’ smoked.

Miss Ghetto – Father Shaheed serves up soulfully tickled piano keys with an old negro spiritual moaning female vocal sample, all placed over poppin’ drums that Wise uses to declare his separation from the ghetto and the hood state of mind that enslaves so many brothers and sisters: “Miss Ghetto got ‘em dreamin’ of loot and Swiss bankers, the finest weapons, packin’ tri-action Smith & Wessons, unlike the eighties, ladies packin’ Sigma 380s, the shit is crazy, but it’s life to ghetto babies, they gotta eat, so the streets provide the gravy.” Shaheed adds a vocal snippet of Havoc professing “No matter how much loot I get I’m staying in the projects, from “Survival Of The Fittest,” which works as an interesting contrast to Wise’s message and feels like a subtle shot at Mobb Deep’s musical thuggery. Regardless, this was a powerful record and a great way to kick off the album.

Word Iz Life – Wise gets his sober minded (“Their ain’t no reefer in me, one swig of malt liquor, end a nigga”) knowledge of self (“I spat the spit fact the chick gave birth, to Black gods on earth, cause I be cream of the planet, G.”) flex on over a feel good wah-wah guitar loop, backed by a funky bass line and laced with a sick organ break that’s brought in during the hook.

Allies – PRT invites the Fugees to join them for this New Jersey cipher session. Culture Freedom lays down the slightly empty but still decent instrumental, as he, Wise, Wyclef, Pras and L-Boogie each get off a verse. Ms. Hill’s easily the star of this record, as she effortlessly sons her fellow New Jerseyites, while also harmonizing on the hook to give the track a boost of energy.

New World News (Interlude) – This is nothing more than a silly skit that you wouldn’t expect to hear on a PRT album. Shout out to Ted Koppel, though.

Gods, Earths And 85ers – Wise uses Shaheed’s pretty piano loop derived backdrop to teach and civilize the Black nation. Nine drops by, and while I was hoping to get a verse from the underappreciated gravelly voiced emcee, he only contributes the hook and shares a few closing words at the tail end of the record. I was a little disappointed in the under usage of Nine, but it’s still a solid record as is.

My Three Wives (Shakyla Pt III) – For those unaware, “Shakyla” was a reoccurring PRT love/appreciation series dedicated to Wise’s (fictional?) Black Queen. As the parenthesized title suggests, this is the third installment of the “Shakyla” trilogy, and to celebrate, Wise kicks Shakyla to the curb and raps praises to his three newfound wives: Miss Bangladesh (who doesn’t give head, but her “wet body and punani drip the sweetest smell”), Miss Africa (who Wise claims has the softest body his arms have ever embraced and kicks it with her on the dock of the Red Sea”) and Miss India (she listens to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and is down to do the deed in the back of the Jeep, if necessary). Wise’s bars are pretty superficial, as his emphasis is on sex and the three ladies’ physical appearance, but even his surface content sounds nice over the smooth airy sounds of Shaheed’s production work, and Miss Jones complements the track, nicely with her vocals on the hook that borrows and remixes a portion of Sade’s classic record, “Stronger Than Pride.”

Wicked Everytime – Wise displays his silky dancehall chanting style on this one and choses to boast and brag rather than teach and educate. At one point he claims to have five hundred and ten wives and two hundred concubines, which might only be second to King Solomon’s staggeringly impressive harem. By the way, how the hell is one man able to handle that many women? I get emotionally and physically exhausted just thinking about. Culture’s instrumental feels a little flat, but Wise’s swag and style breathe life to it. 

N.A.T.O. (Global Cops) (Interlude) – Short interlude that mixes sirens, marching and a couple of ominous music snippets taken from Mort Stevens’ “The Long Wait” off the Hawaii Five-O TV Soundtrack.

Conscious Style – Now here’s a pairing that makes perfect sense. The Teacher, KRS-One and teacher, Wise Intelligent join forces to form what KRS-One dubs “BDPRT,” as the duo sound like conscious superheroes out to slaughter their arch nemesis, ignorance: (Wise) “See, I remember yesterday when y’all was Gods and Earths, Egyptians and metaphysicsts on the verge of giving birth, to understanding and planting seeds to grow, now everybody’s on that bullshit about killing and so, “eat my pussy, suck my dick,” well, that’s the size of the shit, so in the head of ignorance, I rip some conscious clips.” Kris is credited with producing the decent backdrop that matches their meaty verses rather well.

Culture Freestyles (Interlude) – After expressing his frustration with the repetitive unoriginal bullshit most rappers had been regurgitating during PRT’s three-year hiatus, Culture Freedom does exactly what the song title suggest. As far as authentic freestyles go, he sounds pretty good.

They Turned Gangsta – Wise and X-Clan lead emcee, Brother J (who ironically had beef with Wise’s special guest from just two tracks ago, KRS-One…I wonder if they ever cleared things up) use this blunted banger to call out the real and studio gangstas who promote violence, while Sluggy Ranks delivers a catchy reggae seasoned plea, begging brothers to put down the guns and knives. With the recent murders of PnB Rock and Migos member, Takeoff, this message couldn’t be more relevant.

We Dat Nice – Shaheed hooks up a threatening bass line and snappy drums for Wise to talk his elegantly intelligent shit over: “I shine the light, that knowledge ignites, excite Blacks and Whites, through the things that I write, See, I could extend your days, send a spectrum of rays, in a westerly direction, God is worthy of praise, or I could capsize the planet, deprive you of life, take flight, make ice, of any emcees you like, I’m that nice.” This was…nice.

Hear Me Out (Interlude) – A chipmunk voiced male (I’m pretty sure its Culture Freedom) vents about “dick ridin’ niggas” over a warm and creamy groove that sounds so yummy, I wouldn’t mind hearing it a little longer. I guess that’s what the rewind button is for.

Fo Da Love Of Dis – Culture Freedom provides a trunk rattling West Coastish banger that Wise uses to talk his shit, express his love for the art form and continues to show his versatility and ability to flow over damn near anything you throw at him. This was fire.

Dreadful Day – Wise addresses the prison system, it’s flaws and the poor choices some brothers make to end up in the institution that’s designed to keep them enslaved. The legendary DJ Clark Kent provides the somber soundscape, while Junior Reid laments on the hook, giving the track a bluesy reggae feel that helps drive home Wise’s message.

Sistuh – Mr. Intelligent uses this one to address the Black women that he feels have lost their way and need correction. Wise criticizes everything from the way they dress (even though he admits to liking the scorts and Daisy Duke shorts that accentuate their curves and cakes) to the way they address each other (Wise just can’t make sense of why a woman would get upset when a man calls her “bitch,” but is completely okay with her girlfriend calling her one). On the second verse, he calls out the Black men who disrespect, use and manipulate the sisters, so even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything Wise has to say (like myself), you can sense the good intent in his words. Wise should have taken some time to correct Turiya Mason’s horrendous singing on the hook, as she completely butchers “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” (form The Color Purple movie and soundtrack), almost derailing Wise’s smooth flow and Shaheed’s slick instrumental.

Hidden Track – The album ends with a hidden track that finds Wise explaining how the Powers that be (in this case, the Office of Emergency Planning) can suspend our constitutional rights through executive orders if some “unforeseen” national emergency or crisis were to occur, which according to Wise, would make “niggas slaves all over again.” I’m not sure how accurate this is, but since I’m a Black man with Black babies, it might be worth checking into. In the meantime, it makes for an interesting closing statement.

Hip-hop has given us several Black conscious artists through the years. Many of them started off with a strong Black conscious message, but over time, whether do to label pressure or just wanting to stay relevant, the message became tainted, and the once righteous stance became laxed, then later consumed by ratchetness. You’d be hard pressed to find a group that has stayed truer to their conscious/Black militant stance than the Poor Righteous Teachers.

New World Order finds PRT sticking to their guns with songs about Black unity, peace, righteousness and 5 Percent mathematics, all rooted in pure love and appreciation for hip-hop. As per usual, Wise Intelligent carries the lyrical load, flaunting his flexible flow that allows him to effortlessly navigate the scale from rapid fire bars down to a smooth reggae styled chant without missing a beat. His conscious content may get repetitive at times, but his versatility and dynamic delivery makes it all sound entertaining, while standing his ground rhyming next some of hip-hop’s elite emcees (i.e., KRS-One, Lauryn Hill and Brother J). On the production end, NWO is more consistent than any of their previous projects, as Culture Freedom, Father Shaheed and their guest producers provide a diverse quality batch of instrumentals to keep your head bobbin’ while you chew and get full off their food for thought.

I recently saw Wise Intelligent post a statement on one of the social media platforms about how “politically conscious rap voices DID NOT fall off” but were systematically “pulled off and replaced with a steady rotation of self-hating, anti-Black content that aligns with racist stereotypes historically used to justify injustices against Black people.” Maybe the New World Order is being ushered in even as we speak.

-Deedub

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Bush Babees – Gravity (October 15, 1996)

Da Bush Babees were a three-man crew based in Brooklyn, New York by way of Jamaica and Trinidad. We last checked in with Da Babees from the Bush back in 2020 and walked through their 1994 debut album, Ambushed. I thought the album had pretty solid production but lacked substance and direction, and Mr. Man and Bae-B-Face Kaos’ Gilbert Gottfried (rip) impersonation on most of the album’s tracks was annoying as hell. I wasn’t alone with my sentiments on Ambushed, as it was not only a critical failure for the trio, but commercially disappointing as well. Da Bush Babees would get a chance at redemption with their 1996 sophomore effort, Gravity.

Along with changing labels from Reprise to Warner Bros. (which was all in the family, since Warner Bros. owns Reprise), Bae-B-Face Kaos would change his alias to Lee Majors (shoutout to The Six Million Dollar Man) and Y-Tee would change his to Light (maybe because he’s light skinned?), while the group would drop the “Da” and simply go by Bush Babees. Mr. Man would take care of a chunk of the album’s production and the fellas would bring in a few other hands to help with the music, behind the boards and on the mic (more on that in a bit). Like its predecessor, Gravity didn’t do big sells numbers, but it received better reception from the critics and streets than their debut effort.

Gravity would be the final album released by the Bush Babees, as the group would disband after its release. Mr. Man would change his alias to Mr. Khaliyl and started producing for other artists, and Lee and Light would disappear into obscurity, only appearing as mere footnotes in the annuls of our chosen genre. But today we’re focused on Gravity and how it’s held up, or down, through the years.

Intro – The album opens with Mos Def saying a quick Islamic prayer in Arabic (the same one that he begins all his solo albums with it; it translates to “In the name of God, The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate.”), before the bangin’ mid-tempo drums drop along with warm vibrating synth chords that Mos uses the next two and a half minutes to rap and speak on the many different definitions of the word gravity. I mean, he even provides a whole New Negro Definition segment on its meaning (i.e., your mother’s hand and your father’s voice). And don’t forget: “Submit to the law (of gravity) cause it’s a must for you.”

Gravity – The Ummah gets their first production credit of the evening as they build this chill backdrop around a creamy piano loop, while Nicole Johnson provides a soothing airy melody in between the verses. The Bush Babees use the plush groove to discuss self-doubt, coveting thy neighbor, the deteriorating state of hip-hop and self-determination. Well, at least Mr. Man and Lee do. I have no idea what Light is talking about.

Wax – Mr. Man is credited for this wobbly vibrating high-energy instrumental that finds the BBs in battle mode talking their shit: (Mr. Man) “I see through plastic, so prepare to get melted, I spoke once and the whole world felt it, I come thorough, the non-ether vibration, I offset the whole world’s calibration, most be faking moves and acting fictionary, I make ‘em eat their words and shit the whole dictionary.” Lee Majors resurrects the Gilbert Gottfried energy from Ambushed when he screams “Wax!” throughout the song, which quickly grows annoying, but other than that small mishap, this was great.

The Beat Down – Representing The Roots Crew, Rahzel drops by to make the music with his mouth and turns this interlude into a funky little jazzy mashup.

Maybe – Mr. Man goes completely dolo on this one, as he not only holds down all three verses single handedly, but also hooks up the dope backdrop built around a relaxed xylophone melody. He also gets off what might be the strongest verse of the entire album when he addresses people not wanting to take responsibility for their actions: “They be complaining about this and that, talkin’ bout, they bring the drugs in and they bring the gats, but yo, who are they? And why do you always place the blame on somebody who don’t even have no name? It seems to me like all these cats claim to be the victim, acting like the whole entire world is out to get them, stand up on your own, and prove that you are grown, cause the life that you safe may be your own.” *Mic drop*

3 MCs – Q-Tip gets credit as part of The Ummah for this warm jazzy instrumental, but he also steps from behind the boards and is one of the three emcees referenced in the song title (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Tip joins Mr. Man and Lee Majors to lyrically spar with the duo on this fun feel good cipher session that also pays homage to the old school. Oddly, Light is brought in to chant on the hook, which was kind of awkward, considering they pretty much wrote him out of the record with the song title and all, but whatever.

S.O.S – Mos Def joins the BBs on this one to share a message on persevering through all the adversity life throws your way, and it’s all brought together by a solid backdrop and a humorously humbling hook. This was dope.

God Complex – With a nonconfrontational slightly animated approach, the BBs take jabs at Christianity, pagan holidays and covertly spill five percenter teachings over a chipper instrumental.

The Ruler – Lee Majors uses his solo joint to loosely remake Kurtis Blow’s “If I Ruled The World,” as he plots for a global takeover that includes taking out the U.S. government and rival emcees. Mr. Man provides a breezy backdrop laced with an addictively bouncy bass line that serves as King Major’s theme music.

The Ninth Presentation – Mr. Man gets off a short verse over mischievously dark piano chords. I’m not sure why this exists, but I’m also not mad that does.

The Love Song – Apparently, this was the lead and lone single released from Gravity and I don’t remember ever hearing it on radio or TV back in ‘96, which is even more perplexing considering it rose to number 15 on the Billboard Top Rap Singles Charts. Posdnuos (aka Plug Won from De La Soul) builds the instrumental around an ill bass line and a loop from Kool & The Gang’s “Summertime Madness” that the trio use to kick back and get loose over. Mos Def drops in again and gives an extra boost of soul to an already dope record with his cool vocals on the catchy hook and adlibs. This is a super dope record, and I’m shocked it wasn’t a bigger hit for the Bush Babees.

Rock Roots – A warm Caribbean groove (courtesy of Charles Harrison), reminiscent of Bob Marley’s “One Love” comes on, and I was sure this was going to be Light’s solo joint. But instead, we get to enjoy the lovely instrumental, bucky naked, for about forty-five seconds.

In Meh Dreams – Light uses Mr. Man’s gritty dancehall mash up to back his token reggae solo joint. Well, it’s not really a solo joint, as Light is joined by Muntcho Leo for what turns into a chanting duet, but it still feels token. I have no idea what these gentlemen are saying and I’m not crazy about the record either, but I’m sure if this came on at a Dancehall party, I’d be ready to grind on a big botty girl while she whines.

Melting Plastic – Shawn J. Period slides the BBs a beautiful dreamy groove that the trio use to address plastic men (and women) living fake lives: “So I sit around and watch these fools act less than equal to themselves, tryin’ to be like everybody else, duplicatin’ images on TV, tryin’ to be the very people that they see, living their whole entire lives in 3D, you are who you are, so be what you’ve got to be.” This joint fires on all cylinders, as even Light’s unintelligible chant on the hook sounds great. Easily one of the strongest records on the album.

Outro – The Bush Babees bring back the instrumental from the “Intro” and each of them share a few closing words to wrap things up for the evening.

Oh, what a difference a couple of years and a few name changes can make. On Gravity, the Bush Babees shed the gimmicky animated energy and dumbed down rhymes they gave us their first go round, as Mr. Man and Lee Majors find their voices and balance the boasting with substance, and it still feels like they were holding back a little in the depth department. On the other hand, Light’s placement in the group seems a little awkward, as the chemistry between his reggae vibes and Lee and Mr. Man’s lyricism feels off, forced and unnecessary for most of the album. The Native Tongue’s presence is felt throughout Gravity, with The Ummah and Posdnuos providing dope production work and Mos Def sprinkles his magic over a handful of the album’s tracks, which ends up being an overall entertaining listen.

Based on a few different rhymes and statements made throughout Gravity, it feels like the Bush Babees knew the writing was on the wall regarding being able to share their music with the world on the huge platform that a major label can provide. It would have been nice to get at least one more album from the Bush Babees and hear them continue to evolve and grow. But the laws of gravity also apply to music careers, and even emcees must submit to it.

-Deedub

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Xzibit – At The Speed Of Life (October 15, 1996)

Before becoming the face of the once super popular MTV show, Pimp My Ride and making several movie appearances (including 8 Mile and The Wash just to name a few), Xzibit made a name for himself as a platinum selling rapper, thanks largely to the Midas touch of the legendary Dr. Dre. But years before the good doctor would help turn Xzibit’s career to platinum status, I first heard the Southern California transplant and self-proclaimed dysfunctional member of the Alkaholik family (aka The Likwit crew, which included Tha Alkaholiks and King Tee) rhyme on Tha Alkaholiks’ “Hit & Run” from their Coast II Coast album, and he would also get off some bars on the Likwit cipher joint, “Free Style Ghetto,” from King Tee’s IV Life album. It would only be a matter of time before Xzibit would sign a deal with Loud/RCA and release his debut album, At The Speed Of Life.

Xzibit would lean on E-Swift, Diamond D and a few others to sonically sculpt ATSOL, which produced two Billboard charting singles and the album itself would peak at number 74 on the Billboard Top 200 and 22 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Charts. Upon its release, ATSOL received decent reviews from the popular publications of that era and favorable reception overall.

Although I didn’t buy ATSOL when it came out back in the day, I did like two of the album’s singles (that will discuss in a bit). There was so much new music coming out on a weekly basis back then that naturally, even an avid hip-hip fan like myself was bound to miss a few albums. I found a copy ATSOL in the used CD bins years after its release and this write-up will be my first time listening to the album in its entirety…I think. If not, I’m sure my memory will be jogged once we dive into it.

Grand Opening (Interlude)ATSOL opens with a short instrumental that sounds like elevator music, which is pleasant enough, but strange to hear as an intro on a Xzibit album.

At The Speed Of Life – This one starts with a short soundbite taken from the 1976 Robert De Niro flick, Taxi Driver, then Thayod Ausar serves up some dusty boom-bap with a touch of gloom for Xzibt to warm up for the evening and claims to go from “underrated to most anticipated,” which the underrated part I found to be an interesting take, considering this is his debut album. On the third verse, X rhymes: “Before hip-hop was all about drama, anything for a dollar, before Kane fucked Madonna.” Even though we’ve seen the pics of Kane and Madonna naked and tangled up in the pages of her 1992 book, simply titled, Sex (if you haven’t seen the pics, they’re readily available on the net), Kane has always maintained that he didn’t have sex with Madonna, though he has admitted to slipping a finger or two inside her vagina. Look, I understand that Kane was once associated with the Nation of Islam and sleeping with white women was strictly forbidden by the Nation, but Madonna was a sexy chick in ‘92, so I completely understand how Kane fell into her clutches…if he did. I wonder how Kane felt about X’s line, and would X have said that bar five years prior when Kane was still on the throne? Hmm…

Just Maintain – Def Squad affiliate, Hurricane G, and one-third of Tha Alkaholiks, J-Ro, join X over an instrumental that’s loaded with good energy for a good old fashion trash talking session. Hurricane G has always been a bit of an enigma to me: her lackadaisical flow is annoying, but I’m secretly in love with her thick Puerto Rican accent and voice…but I digress. This is a fun record that makes for quality filler material, but I don’t know if that’s a good sign, considering this is only the second song on the album.

Eyes May Shine – This was the second single released from ATSOL. E-Swift crafts a dark backdrop accented by a ridged guitar loop, eerie wah-wah guitar chords and bellowing violins that match the raw quality of Xzibit’s voice, as he continues to spew strong battle-ready bars (I love his “Teflon, napalm, homicide scenes, these are a few of my favorite things” line). This version is cool, but the Mobb Deep assisted remix is stellar.

Positively Negative – King Tee swings by to join X on this drunken duet. As much as I love King Tee, everything about this song was positively mid.

Don’t Hate Me (Interlude) – Over a snobbishly mellow instrumental, X gives shoutouts and then…claims not to have anyone to give shoutouts too??

Paparazzi – This was the lead single from ATSOL. X uses the symphonic canvas, laced with soothing opera notes from a female voice to bark at and call out all rappers who get in the rap game for fame and money instead of for the love of the art: “That’s why Xzibit only roll with a chosen few, you ain’t really real, I can tell when I look at you, so ease off the killer talk you ain’t killin’ shit, it’s not affecting me or the niggas that I’m chillin’ with, I don’t believe the hype or buy wolf tickets, nigga, you make a gang of noise and never seen, like crickets.” I love the darkly sophisticated feel of Thayod Ausar’s production paired with Xzibit’s raspy voice. This is an underground classic.

The Foundation – This was the third and final single released from ATSOL. DJ Muggs gets his sole production credit of the evening, as he steps away from his signature dusty blunted bag and breaks X off with somber vibes built around an ill piano loop and a sample of a female voice hitting high haunted notes. Xzibit uses the touching instrumental to feed his son knowledge and words of wisdom: “Take heed when it’s your turn to bring new life, make sure it’s the woman you gonna make your wife, be prepared for the worst but expect the best, no matter where life take you come home to the west, survival takes more than just gats and guns, that’s words to live by from a father to a son.” This is another great record that I’d classify as an unheralded classic.

Mrs. Crabtree – A Hurricane G assisted interlude that after several listens, I still have no idea what purpose it serves.

Bird’s Eye View – Tha Liks stop by to join X and turn this one into an intoxicated cipher session, while Hurricane G assists with the hook, blessing us with her wonderful voice one last time. Diamond D gets credit for the dark backdrop that matches X’s gruff and bully bars but doesn’t quite suit the light-hearted content from J-Ro and Tash, nevertheless, all three emcees entertain. And of course, I have to pick a winner: Tash by a landslide.

Hit & Run (Part II) – As I mentioned in the opening, Part 1 was on Tha Alkaholiks’ sophomore project, Coast II Coast, which paired Xzibit with all three legs of the Liks: Tash, J-Ro and E-Swift, all looking to find a chick to…you know where I’m going with it. This time around, X rolls solo, as a lazy Sunday night quickly turns into an amazing adventure in ass, thanks to a generous man named Ron Hightower, who must run a brothel or something. I wasn’t crazy about the song, but it does provide a hell of a fantasy.

Carry The Weight – Thayod Ausar’s instrumental sets the melancholic mood for our host to share the traumatizing events from his childhood (i.e., his mother’s death at the age of nine and dealing with his physically abusive preaching father and stepmom), which eventually led to him running the streets with thugs and involved in a life of crime. Xzibit adds a heartfelt hook (“Niggas wonder why I sit up in the club and drink, say “what up” to Xzibit and I still don’t speak, I’m tryna contemplate, the next move to make, gotta find some way, to release the hate”) that serves as the perfect framework for his vulnerable verses, and I always find vulnerable hip-hop songs compelling.

Plastic Surgery – The Golden State Warriors (not to be confused with the reigning NBA Champions) were a short-lived super group made up of Xzibit, Ras Kass and Saafir (who will always be Caine’s cousin Harold in my mind). The trio turn their microphones into scalpels and metaphorically perform surgery on fake emcees that bite the next man’s style. They stray off the path a few times (like when X recommends one wack emcee to bring his girl in to get her C cup enhanced to a Double D, or when Ras Kass says he only has sex with girls that weigh 215 pounds, because their low self-esteem makes it easier to get the pussy (a statement that might have gotten him canceled in today’s climate)), but overall the fellas complete the mission and entertain with witty and humorous bars.

Enemies & Friends – The final song of the evening finds Xzibit sounding like a man who’s been burned by so-called friends one too many times, to the point he now can’t separate his foes from his bros. DJ Pen One’s dark and grimy backdrop sounds like the big brother to the instrumental for the title track and works well enough underneath Xzibit’s bitter and callous verses.

Last Words (Interlude) – Contrary to the title, there are no words on this Outro. Just the same random elevator music from the Intro.

The album title would lead you to believe that Xzibit is going to give you an album full of insightful life lessons and sage like wisdom. And he does drop off a few jewels (see “The Foundation” and “Carry The Weight”), but the bulk of At The Speed Of Life finds Xzibit in hungry emcee mode trying to prove to the world that he deserves to be here. X does prove to be a more than capable emcee with a great rapping voice, an adequate deliver and lyrically proficient. And the album’s host of producers provide a quality batch of cohesive dusty boom bap scores, yet after the two stellar singles, the rest of ATSOL sounds pedestrian.

Maybe pedestrian is s a bit harsh, because ATSOL is a respectable debut album from Xzibit. But what better way is there to sum up an album with two strong singles sandwiched in between a bunch of decent filler material? Wait…that’s it. A single sandwich.

-Deedub

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Ras Kass – Soul On Ice (October 1, 1996)

John R. Austin II, better known to the world as Ras Kass is an emcee out of Carson, CA who started making a name for himself in the early nineties. His rap alias was inspired by the 18th Century Ethiopian Emperor, Yohannes IV, whose government name was Ras Kassa prior to him becoming ruler. In 1994 Ras Kass independently released a single called “Remain Anonymous,” which would help garner his first national attention and earn a spot in the once highly touted Hip-Hop Quotable column in The Source. My first time hearing Ras Kass rhyme was also in ‘94, when he rhymed alongside Ahmad and Saafir on the single, “Come Widdit” from the Street Fighter Soundtrack. He would go on to make more cameos (see Sway & King Tech’s “Wake Up Show Anthem ‘94” and “Riiiot” from Chino XL’s debut album) and spit impressive freestyles on several different radio station appearances, which would eventually lead to him signing a deal with Priority, where he would release his debut album (on Patchwerk/Priority), Soul On Ice.

Ras Kass would recruit relatively unknown producers to construct the music for Soul On Ice, and he as well would lend a helping hand with the production, as he’s credited with several co-production credits in the album liner notes. Soul On Ice would produce three singles and cracked the Billboard Top 200, peaking at 169, while the critics’ reviews on the album ranged from decent to great. Over the years Soul On Ice (and Ras Kass) has developed a cult like following, as many hail it as a classic.

The album title was influenced by and borrowed from the former Black Panther, Eldridge Cleaver’s classic book of conscious Black militant essays. Would Ras Kass’ Soul On Ice live up to the classicness and consciousness of its inspiration? Let’s discuss.

On Earth As It Is… – The first song of the evening finds Ras Kass paralleling God and religion with hip-hop and other earthly things: “It’s a blessing just to live another day they say, ‘cause the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, so my niggas pray five times a day, and still carry a trey-five-seven…I’ll be walking through the pearly gates with an infrared scope ten millimeter heater, ‘cause if my name ain’t in The Book of Life, I’m snuffin’ St. Peter.” Props to Ras for the unique concept, and he does get off some clever couplets, but his choppy flow and the atrocious instrumental malign what had potential to be a great record. Oh, and that terrible mishap with the drums at the beginning of the third verse is unforgivable. I can’t believe no one in his camp caught that in the mixing and mastering of the album.

Anything Goes – This was the second single released SOI. Ras and Lamont “Bird” Holdby (or “Holbdy” depending on which song credit you read in the liner notes…I’ll just call him Bird from here on out) loop up Al B. Sure’s “Oooh, This Love Is So” to create an airy melodic groove that our host uses to discuss the never ending pursuit of money, by any means necessary: “I rock beats without bakin’ soda, and money gets washed, it’s only illegal if you get caught, thought you knew, ‘cause the DEA do it too, keep separate books for the internal revenue, capitalism is pimps and hoes, in ‘96 I suppose, anything goes.” I love this instrumental. I’m pretty sure I stole the cassette single back in the day so my crew could freestyle over the instrumental. This one ends with a misogynistic but funny interlude to set up the next song…

Marinatin’ – This is another instrumental we used to freestyle over back in the day (I thought it was the B-side to the “Anything Goes” single, but I guess it wasn’t…anyhoo…). Bobcat hooks up a relaxed and smooth backdrop that sounds submerged in haunted synthesized water, as Ras Kass details a night filled with intoxicated debauchery. Oh, and don’t forget, it’s BYOB: Bring your own bud, brew and bitches. Not the most original song idea, but still enjoyable.

Reelishymn – Ras and Bird hook up a beautiful laidback instrumental that finds Ras jaded by the politics of the music industry and voicing his frustrations: “Fools be on my dick like foreskin, but what before then? Now when niggas prop me, I’m skeptical, because this rap shit is extremely unethical, and with slight notoriety, comes anxiety, Now I’m supposed to play celebrity, when nobody celebrated me at my D.O.B.? And label reps wanna play me, but I’m familiar with record company rule# 4080, fuck Luther and Sade, for takin’ food out my baby’s, mouth denying sample clearance, I’m losing my mind, outer body experience.” Gypsy adds bluesy notes on the hook to enhance the melancholic beauty of the track. This is easily one of my favorite records on SOI.

Nature Of The Threat – Ras Kass takes nearly eight minutes to breakdown the evolution of the white man and all his devilish deeds since the beginning of mankind. Our host shares some pretty interesting information (some that’s factual and some that’s debatable, but it’s all interesting), but this is way too much complex content to squeeze into one song and expect the listener to be able to digest it all in one sitting. Ras’ choppy delivery and the horrible instrumental don’t help matters, either. This would make for great text for a book or a lecture at a university, but it doesn’t translate well as a record.

Etc. – Super mid.

Sonset – Some rapper from the East Coast done pissed Ras Kass all the way off, as he uses this one to fire shots back at any New York emcee dissin’ his coast, purely off “geographic prejudice”: “So why these niggas actin’ like since they live in the state, that rap originates, they automatically all-time greats? It takes, classic material to make phat shit, not proof of New York residence and an accent.” Ras’s battle bars are sharp, but this instrumental is “watching paint dry” boring. This one ends with one of Ras’ guys spittin’ a hi-larious freestyle before the next song comes in.

Drama – Coolio joins Ras Kass on this pimp duet, as the two take turns painting game all over this sneaky slippery smooth musical canvas. We can also mark Tribe Degrees of Separation off for this post, thanks to Ras’ reference of The Abstract’s government name: “The bitch saw me in the Lex and didn’t know it came from Avis, now she’s on the tip like my name was John Davis.” I still can’t believe Coolio is gone…and shoutout to the short-lived Sega CD gaming system.

The Evil That Men Do – Ras Kass sounds like he’s at a therapy session sharing some of the traumatic experiences that scarred him and eventually led to him becoming a convicted felon (the baby powder incident back in ’81 was kind of crazy, though). Ras’ honest bars combined with the emotional instrumental make for a powerfully compelling song, and it’s the second consecutive song that jacks a line from an Ice Cube record for the hook (see “Color Blind” and “Who’s The Mack?” for the previous song). After all that heavy content, Ras follows it up with a lighthearted interlude to break up the tension and make you chuckle a bit.

If/Then – Ras keeps the playful energy from the previous skit alive with this one, as he spits clever bars, witty punchlines, and sounds a little like his buddy, Chino XL, when he takes heartless jabs at a few of hip-hop’s fallen soldiers (Trouble T Roy and Eazy-E) for the sake of shock value and a laugh, which I’m sure he got out of me back in my immature teenage years, so who am I to judge? For the hook, Ras puts a humorous twist on the refrain from the misogynistic masterpiece that was “Bitches Ain’t Shit” off The Chronic, and the thick hypnotic bass line, accompanied by the mystic horn loop makes for an addictively dope instrumental.

Miami Life – This was the lead single off SOI, which was originally released on The Substitute Soundtrack in April of ‘96. The track opens with beautiful harp led chords that make you feel like you’re entering heaven’s pearly gates, then your ascension is suddenly interrupted by police sirens that bring you crashing back to earth, before the beautifully breezy backdrop comes in conjuring up visions of bangin’ bathing suited bodies relaxing on South Beach in the middle of June (damn, I gotta get back to Miami soon). The Substitute was a movie starring Tom Berenger who plays a substitute teacher at a Miami High School, hence the song title, and Ras builds his rhymes around Miami pop-culture (I love his opening line: “I’m launchin’ rockets and scuds at Crockett and Tubbs,” and the bar that starts the second verse: ”Walk these streets, with more heat than Alonzo Mourning”), politics (i.e.; Senator Bob Dole and C. Delores Tucker’s “war on hip-hop”) and other random rhymes that occasionally reference the movie. I’ve always loved this song. Easily my favorite record in Ras Kass’ catalog.

Soul On Ice – This was the title track and the third single off SOI. Ras gets off more witty bars, but his offbeat delivery and the below average instrumental distract his clever rhymes from fully shining.

Ordo Abchao (Order Out Of Chaos) – Vooodu (with a co-credit going to Ras Kass) takes the listener on an airy and mysterious odyssey, while Ras weaves facts and conspiracy theories together, providing a heapin’ helpin’ of food for thought placed over great music to end the show.

They say it’s not what you say but how you say it, and that “how” might be even more important when it comes to emceeing. On Soul On Ice, Ras Kass proves to be an intelligent emcee with wit and great ideas, but at times his execution gets stifled by his unorthodox choppy delivery. Most of SOI sounds like Ras Kass laid the verses and hooks a cappella, then later placed instrumentals to fit underneath his vocals. Sometimes the instrumentals work well with Ras’ unique delivery, but a handful of them don’t and the bewildered bars morph into a bunch of words that sound like awkward spoken word poems over hip-hop beats. And things become excruciatingly hard to listen to when the instrumentals are horrible (i.e., “On Earth As It Is…” and “Nature Of The Threat”). Like fingers on chalkboard excruciating.

Soul On Ice is a decent album (I enjoyed more than half of it), but considering the anticipation and hype built around it when it came out, I was expecting more. Maybe Ras should have taken the Soul off Ice and let it thaw all the way out.

-Deedub

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Wreckx-N-Effect – Raps New Generation (September 24, 1996)

In the annuls of hip-hop, Wreckx-N-Effect will forever be remembered for their Teddy Riley assisted smash hit, “Rump Shaker,” that even to this day if it comes on at a club, bar, or party, is guaranteed to make the ass of some forty-year-old woman twerk. That crossover sensation would become a double platinum single for Akil and Mark, and single handedly (no pun intended) propelled the duo’s 1992 sophomore album, Hard Or Smooth, to platinum status. But prior to Hard Or Smooth, WNE released projects that had some modest success: a self-titled EP in ‘88, followed by their self-titled debut album in ‘89 that featured the mild hit record, “New Jack Swing.” But all WNE’s pre-Rump Shaker output would be overshadowed by that massive single. Four years later, Akil (aka A-Plus, not to be confused with the kid from Hempstead or one-fourth of the Oakland based group, Souls of Mischief) and Markell (aka Miggidy Mark) would return to build on the momentum of HOS, with their third full-length album, Raps New Generation.

On Raps New Generation (the omission of the apostrophe before the “s” in “Raps” is WNE’s error, not mine), WNE would pay homage to eighties hip-hop by naming each song on the album after a classic eighties hip-hop song, showing respect to the pioneers as they look forward to the future (or past?). Like all their previous projects, WNE would handle most of the production duties with some help from their mentor and creator of the New Jack Swing sound, the legendary, Teddy Riley. New Generation was a commercial failure and would be the only WNE album to not make it on the Billboard Top 200, and the critics weren’t warm to the album, either, as it received unfavorable reviews.

I mentioned during the write-up of WNE’s debut album that I enjoyed it enough that I’d be willing to shell out a few dollars to check out the next two. HOS was mediocre at best, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed while I root for New Generation.

Intro: New Generation – The album opens with a female voice chanting the names of WNE and the members of their Posse Deep crew in a Ms. Mary Mat like cadence (after my first few listens, I swear she was saying “forty-one, all beef, plus Mickey D’s, Tasha’s knowledge eats all Nutter Butter”). Then a baritone male voice that sounds like an announcer at the circus, prepares the listener for what they’re about to experience, makes a bunch of random statements (I’m not sure what the hell the Oklahoma City bombing or the OJ Trial had to do with anything) and a few outlandish claims, like referring to Akil as “the hottest lyricist to ever walk the muthafuckin’ planet” and that the album contains “the dopest beats to ever come across man’s mind.” Anyhoo…

Tha Show – The track begins with dark synthesized chords and Natasha Laing singing a hook that borrows and remixes a portion of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love.” Then Akil is joined by Rugged Baztud (yes, I know…super corny alias) and Heat, as all three of the trio spit overly aggressive hardcore soliloquies (and what the hell was Akil talking about with his “I got the body of a scarecrow, heart of a lion” line? It’s obviously a Wizard Of Oz reference, as he mentions having the mind of the Wiz and calls wack rappers “Dorothy emcees” later in the rhyme, but the lion didn’t have heart, he was a coward; and I have absolutely no idea why he would brag about having the body of a scarecrow). Despite some of Akil’s head scratching bars and the nonsensical hook, this was a decent record.

Top Billin – Akil (with a co-production credit going to Chris Smith) hooks up a cheesy poor man’s mid-nineties Dr. Dre instrumental that he raps dolo over, spittin’ random shit, while his blasphemous ass continues to try and convince the listener that he’s “lyrically, Jesus.” Mark and the rest of the crew are left to handle the hook for this easily forgettable record.

Criminal Minded – Akil combines funky drums with more synth chords and rock tinged-guitars to create this electrically charged backdrop, as the self-proclaimed Lyrical Jesus (who hi-lariously claims he is “no longer rump shakin’ with goddesses” during his verse), Rugged Baztud, an uncredited rapper (who rhymes right after Rugged Baztud and tries so hard to sound tough, you can hardly understand his rhymes) and Knowledge match the instrumental’s energy with enthusiasm and vigor making for a fire record (Knowledge’s raw vocal tone paired with his ill reggae-flavored flow makes him the standout on this one, even though a rapper who claims to smoke, drink and fuck 365 days a year, has no goals or morals, and murders his own people, should not have the alias of Knowledge). Peace to BDP, KRS-One and Wendy’s, even though those crispy chicken sandwiches y’all gave me a couple of weeks ago were trash.

Harlem (Interlude) – Akil has a phone conversation with one of his Harlem homeboys for this short skit.

Planet Rock – Another Akil produced dolo joint that he uses to spew more bars of blasphemy. This time it’s done over a hard backdrop, driven by funky drums, and accompanied by a catchy hook.

Move Da Crowd – Teddy Riley (who the liner notes oddly credit as Teddy “Street” Riley) gets his first production credit of the night with this one, while Akil continues with his God obsession, and seven tracks into the album, Miggidy Mark finally gets off his first verse (where he hilariously claims to be “your favorite rapper”). It’s too bad he had to wait all that time to rhyme over such a wiggidy wack track. TR’s zany synthesized bullshit of an instrumental sounds horrible. I’m sure Rakim shook his head in disappointment after hearing this one.

Funky (Interlude) – A short skit that sets up the next song…

Funk Box – Now this sounds more like something Teddy Riley would produce. TR sprinkles a little New Jack Swing seasoning over the plush and pristine instrumental, and invites Darryl Adams to sing the hook, giving the track a deeper R&B flavoring. I thought for sure Akil and Mark would use the breezy track to rap about the ladies, but instead they stay true to the braggadocious thread that’s dominated New Generation up to this point. Along with more Jesus comparisons, Akil gets off a few bars that pay homage to Mobb Deep’s The Infamous album, which we find out during his verse, he’s such a big fan of it that he’s committed the album’s release date to memory, and I’m sure his admiration for the Queensbridge duo had some influence on the naming of his crew: Posse Deep. Mobb Deep. He could have at least changed the “Deep” to “Dense” or something. Regardless, I enjoyed this one.

Somethin For Da Radio – Akil’s backdrop sounds like something Daz would have cheffed up, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. “Lyrical Jesus” sits this one out for the most part (he does make a brief appearance at the midway point and chimes in on the hook) and lets his Posse Deep crew take center stage. A-Q, Knowledge, Bad Newz and Rugged Baztud collectively do a decent job carrying the lyrics load, while Natasha Laing jacks and reinterprets a portion of Lionel Richie’s classic record, “All Night Long” on the hook. Continue to rest easy, Biz Markie.

Da Vapors – Rugged Baztud and Akil pair up to lyrically spar over this hard, dark and polished instrumental that’s sure to make you stiffen your neck as you bop your head to the rhythm. This is also one of the few records on New Generation that Akil doesn’t compare himself to God or Jesus.

Rap Acting School (Interlude) – What’s supposed to be a funny skit ends up just being annoying.

Boomin System – Mark, Nutta Butta, D-Moody and Akil form a cipher and take on the subdued drums and ominous keys, while Knowledge sprinkles a little dancehall flavor on the hook that’s bound to make some young tender whined her body. D-Moody makes his first appearance of the night and boldly calls out Akil (who once again raps praises to KRS-One) in a friendly competitive kind of way: “I’m wreckin’ shop like Miggidy Mark and the Armenian devil, A-Plus, meet your match, the attack of a rap rebel.” Moody’s challenge must have inspired Akil, as he sounds determined to out rhyme his protégé, and it’s safe to say he does.

Grandma (Interlude) – Akil crank calls his grandma on this skit that sounds a little cruel but made me chuckle a few times.

Sucka MC’s – TR lays down a smooth synth heavy backdrop for Akil to get off one last “Lyrical Jesus” reference (and he threatens to “stick his dick in the career” of rival emcees), Knowledge (the son of Roberta) makes another entertaining appearance, and Nutta Butta…does Nutta Butta. More entertaining than the instrumental and the bars is Mark’s humorous and catchy hook. This is easily my favorite record on New Generation.

It’s Yours (Play On Playa) – Akil sits the final song of the album out and lets Nutta Butta, Mark and Six-Two take turns bragging about their player mannerisms, with mediocre results.

Outro – Another dumb skit to end the album.

Raps New Generation has a few different meanings and agendas at play. It obviously honors the pioneers and the era that came before it with its song titles, but it also finds WNE introducing their crew, Posse Deep, as the next young crop of talented emcees, while Akil and Mark (more so Akil) act as their mentoring veterans trying to distance themselves from the soft R&B image they built their brand around and out to prove to the “new school” emcees (who are not a part of Posse Deep) that just because WNE is seasoned, doesn’t mean they’re done.

The production on New Generation sounds like it was influenced by the synth-heavy West Coast sound that was so dominant in the mid-nineties, and the “all mics on deck” approach with the rhymes is reminiscent of The Chronic, but don’t get it twisted. New Generation is far from The Chronic. That’s not to say that the production on New Generation is bad, as I found the majority of it ranged from decent to solid, but it would be blasphemous to put it next to the good doctor’s masterful production work or compare Posse Deep’s serviceable output to the entertainment and lyrical fire power that Snoop Dogg and his Dogg Pound Click provided on Dr. Dre’s certified classic. Speaking of blasphemy, Akil’s God complex gets annoying by the midway point of New Generation, which wouldn’t be so bothersome if he actually deserved a spot in the conversation of God emcee. Akil’s a decent lyricist, but his overly aggressive delivery coupled with his lisp, works as a stumbling block, and with the repeated mentioning of KRS-One’s name on the album, I was sure he would pop-up and make a cameo at some point. He never does.

There’s an age-old adage that your reputation precedes you, which is what I believe, at least partially, hobbled the reception of Raps New Generation back in the day. WNE abandons their core fanbase by substituting their pop/R&B sound with a hardcore image, while the hardcore heads they were trying to appeal to weren’t willing to forget their softer past and take their newfound “tough guy emcee“ persona serious. It’s an unfortunate conundrum because New Generation is actually a decent album. If only WNE would have heeded TLC’s advice about the dangers of chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to, folks.

-Deedub

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The Roots – Illadelph Halflife (September 24, 1996)

First things first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post by saying rest in peace to Artis Leon Ivey Jr., better known to the world as Coolio. From your earlier work with W.C. and The M.A.A.D Circle to your tremendous solo career, thank you for your significant contribution to hip-hop and the culture.

The last time we checked in with The Roots was on their 1995 sophomore effort, Do You Want More?!!!??! The album wasn’t an immediate commercial success (it took twenty years for it to earn a gold plaque), nonetheless, it would slowly become a critical darling and even to this day is one of my favorite albums in The Roots dense and highly quality catalog. Led by Questlove on the drums and Black Thought on the mic, The Roots would return in ‘96 (making a few alterations to the band; most notably, Kamal Gray would replace the soon to be superstar producer, Scott Storch on keys) with their third release, Illadelph Halflife.

Since their debut album Organix, The Roots have used a continuous track numbering format on their albums, with Illadelph containing tracks 34 through 53. The Roots’ albums (at least prior to 2010) have also had great liner notes, filled with nerdy tidbits, a little self-deprecation and amusing inside jokes (some that you’re invited into once you listen to the album, and others that will tickle you even though you remain an outsider to the jokes). Illadelph (which is The Roots’ slang for their hometown, Philadelphia) would render three solid singles, even though they made little noise on the charts, and like its predecessor, it didn’t put up big sales numbers, but it received great reviews and heaps of critical acclaim, including a spot on The Source’s 1998 list of 100 Best Rap Albums.

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve listened to Illadelph, so this should be a fun refresher. Rest in peace to Malik B and Leonard “Hub” Hubbard.

Intro – The album opens with a collage of soundbites, which the liner notes say were taken from an audio documentary called “Hip-hop 101; On The Road With The Roots,” which features clips from the likes of Dr. Cornel West, Chuck D, Harry Allen and Questlove.

Respond/React – The Roots waste no time getting things jumpin’, as the band whips up an energetic mid-tempo bop (which includes some dope inconspicuous harp plucks courtesy of a Julia Haines) that finds Black Thought (aka The Bad Lieutenant) and Malik B (aka The M-Ill-itant) shredding the microphones and emcees, simultaneously, with witty battle-ready bars and razor-sharp lyricism. From Thought’s opening bar that finds him introducing himself as “The attractive assassin” to Malik’s closing verse where he threatens to “take away your last breath when you got asthma,” this was fire. I wish an emcee or crew would have reacted or responded to this shit.

Section – If my memory serves me correct, this was the first song off Illadelph that I ever heard while playing on a late-night radio show around my way back in the day. Quest and the gang create a cool groove that Thought mutilates with the smoothness of The Fonz, leaving Malik to salvage what’s left of the mic on the second verse, before he returns with the collars on his butter leather fully popped to tell you what he and Malik’s purpose on the mic is. I have no idea what the “Luther Van, lyrical contraband” is, but dammit, Thought makes it sound cool as hell. This one still sounds great twenty-five plus years later.

Panic!!!!! – Over subdued but urgent instrumentation, Thought gets off a quick verse about being awaken just after midnight (twelve seventeen to be exact) by “shots and sirens” (or “sireens”) in his South Philly hood. Obviously, this was recorded years before Thought and the group started gettin’ them steady Jimmy Fallon checks and were able to get up out of those crime infested Philly streets.

It Just Don’t Stop – The dark instrumentation and uber pessimistic hook would lead you to believe the verses on this song would be filled with gloom and doom. And while some of Malik and Thought’s rhymes are dimly lit, Malik balances the dark and heavy with a few light-hearted battle bars. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it makes for a solid album cut.

Episodes – Sticking with the dark vibes from the previous two songs, Thought and Malik are joined by Dice Raw, as the three take turns addressing the crime and senseless acts of violence in the Philly streets, while the Jazzyfatnastees and Fatin add mournful harmonies in between the verses to accentuate the already somber feel of the track.

Push Up Ya Lighter – Our hosts change the mood from dark to grey with this melodically serene backdrop that sounds like the perfect music for a cold wintery Midwest Monday morning. Thought and Malik continue to touch on Philly’s violence issues, but from a more optimistic perspective (at least Thought’s rhymes are), while fellow Philadelphian, Bahamadia swings by to get off her shit and flex her “anti-gangsta bitch” rhetoric. This was dope.

What They Do – This was the third single released from Illadelph. Quest lays down Ummah issued drums, Kamal tickles the keys, Hub provides the irresistible bass line, someone named Spanky (whom the liner notes hi-lariously credits for his “Wes Mongomeration”) gets off seductive guitar licks, Angela Slates and Raphael Saadiq sing the hook, and Black Thought indirectly disses all phony, materialistic, one-dimensional rappers, while offering a free clinic on wordplay, word connection and flow: “The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken, it’s all contractual and about money makin’, pretend to be cats don’t seem to know they limitation, exact replication and false representation, you wanna be a man? Then stand your own, to emcee requires skills, I demand some shown.” This is a slept-on classic that is just as relevant today as it was twenty-six years ago.cl

? Vs Scratch – This short interlude finds Questlove playing a simple drum beat and Scratch (from the School of Thought) gettin’ his Rahzel on, cuttin’ up the ones and twos with his vocals. The liner notes hi-lariously parenthesize the song title as “The Token DJ Cut.”

Concerto Of The Desperado – For single number two off Illadelph, the band creates a classical atmosphere, punctuated by epic cello plucks courtesy of Hubbard. The music sets the mood for Black Thought (the Desperado), who starts the song out on some poetic shit (“In the glow of the moon, over the melancholy metro”) and quickly shifts gears, transforming into the unorthodox hip-hop minister who preaches a boastful sermon to son emcees and ultra-magnetize the brains of his listeners: The Desperado, that refuse to follow, the Fifth aficionado, break you up into parts like vibrato, I’m deep like the dark of the night, niggas is sweet and sound silly when they talk on the mic, they use simple back-and-forth the same, old rhythm that’s plain, I’d rather ultra-magnetize your brain, it’s the hip-hop purist, to leave you lost like a tourist, inside the chorus, niggas is bringing nothing for us, as we breakin’ ‘em down to fraction, tell your squadron, it’s time to go to war, respond/react once more.” Shoutout to the beautiful Amel Larrieux, who licks her opera chops and sprinkles those high octaves all over this sensational track. This is easily my favorite record on Illadelph and possibly in my top ten Roots joints of all-time.

Clones – This was the lead single from Illadelph and probably the grimiest record in The Roots entire catalog. M.A.R.S. and Dice Raw join Black Thought and Malik B for this Philly cipher session that’s backed by Quest’s hard drums and incredible drum rolls in between the verses that sound like he’s spraying the crowd with an automatic weapon (which I’m sure is why the liner notes credit him for the “hi-hat and triggers”). All parties involved turn in solid performances (with BT’s shining the brightest, of course), making for an entertaining posse record.

UNIverse At War – Common stops by to join Thought on this duet that on paper reads to be a cerebrally impressive record, but in real time it sounds drab as hell, thanks mainly to the extremely dry and extraordinary boring instrumentation.

No Alibi – The band whips up a smooth slightly somber groove for Malik and Tariq to let their stream of consciousness flow, and after Malik forms a puddle, Thought uses the next two verses to create a fuckin’ ocean (that “Evelyn Champagne King” line was ridiculous sick!).

Dave Vs. US – A quick interlude that has Quest and Rahzel squaring up with saxophonist, Dave Murray on some inside joke shit.

No Great Pretender – Finally, Malik gets a solo joint that finds him dissin emcees, dreaming of buying out Tommy (Hilfiger) and Helly Hansen, while plotting to kidnap America and give it to Tariq to hold for ransom. Unfortunately, Malik’s outshined by Rahzel’s brilliant verbal drums and horns.

The Hypnotic – BT uses the drowsy jazz instrumentation (that sounds perfectly suited for an afterhours jazz lounge) to share a story about a girl he was once infatuated with, named Alana (whom he cleverly credits for “lubricatin’ his meridian points” with great massages). Over time, Thought loses touch with her and later finds out she lost her life after becoming a “victim of the wicked system that controlled her.” D’Angelo drops in to add his signature falsetto vocals on the adlibs, adding to the already melancholic vibes of the track. I’ve never cared much for this one. The music feels sleepy and something about Thought’s story feels hollow and contrived.

Ital (The Universal Side) – Thought and Q-Tip (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) join forces on this jewel-filled duet that finds a primed Q-Tip spewing rhymes full of sage wisdom and Tariq focused on schooling lesser emcees with super sharp stanzas. Quest and the band provide a soulful groove for the two talented emcees to get their dazzle on, completing this sensational record.

One Shine – According to the liner notes, this jam session was pieced together from several different sessions between 1993 and 1996. Along with a plethora of musicians, this spacious cool jazz mash up also features Cassandra Wilson, Amel Larrieux and Questlove’s dad, Lee Andrews aka “Poppa ?uestion” (rip). This song sounds a bit misplaced (more suitable for an elevator or customer service hold music), but I enjoyed it in a regal kind of way.

The Adventures In Wonderland – Over ultra-mellow instrumentation, Ursula Rucker keeps an early Roots’ album tradition and gets off an album closing spoken word poem. The last (and first) time we heard from Ms. Rucker on a Roots album, she came (no pun intended) from the perspective of an angry pussy poppin’ recipient of an eight-man train, only to turn around and pop all eight of the “shriveled cock men” (her words, not mine) afterwards. This time around, she shares a poem from the eyes of a struggling single mother turned crack dealer, who ends up paying the price for living that risky lifestyle. She also manages to make a “pussy” and “cock” reference in this poem as well.

Outro – The album ends with, who I think is Cornel West, talking about The Roots being “a little bit of an enigma,” due to the fact they’ve reached the level of their dreams (a major record deal and international notoriety), but their jazz hip-hop band concept still hadn’t blown up, to which Dr. West bleakly ends the album saying, “it is possible it won’t.”

Dr. West’s assessment of The Roots being “a bit of an enigma” was accurate in ‘96 and has remained true throughout their career. They’re a group who are respected by all yet underappreciated by most. They’ve never experienced consistent commercial success, yet they’ve consistently put out quality music, compiling a blue-collar catalog that should be revered more than it is, and Illadelph Halflife serves as the perfect evidence to support that argument.

On Illadelph, The Roots stick to the same organic jazz hip-hop fundamentals that they followed on their previous two albums, but this time around the music feels a little darker and more focused, while Black Thought and Malik’s content touches on more serious topics, giving balance to their boastful bars, lighthearted freestyles and verbal jabs at superficial emcees that they deem lesser. Speaking of Black Thought, he continues to blossom into (on my list) the GOAT he would soon become, as his delivery sounds more polished and refined than prior, the bars and wordplay are more chiseled, and his ability to suavely bend words as he purposely mispronounces them, along with his overall mastery of the English language, is alien like. And Malik B makes for a quality B-mic.

Illadelph does come with a few underwhelming moments (i.e., “UNIverse” and “The Hypnotic”), but those blemishes are easily overlooked when the overall body of work is this gorgeously entertaining. Illadelph’s a classic album and a key component in The Roots’ legendary underdog legacy.

-Deedub

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Big Noyd – Episodes Of A Hustla (September 16, 1996)

In 1995, Mobb Deep released a bonafied classic with their sophomore effort, The Infamous. The album was a masterpiece in callous Queensbridge thuggery backed by Havoc’s intriguingly dark and grimy production. While Prodigy and Havoc would carry most of the lyrical load, the album would also feature cameos from a few grade A emcees, like Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Q-Tip. It would also include a few verses from newcomer and Mobb Deep affiliate, Big Noyd, who would make quite the first impression, delivering some dope verses (specifically on “Give Up The Goods” and “Right Back At You”). Noyd’s impressive cameos, along with his association with Mobb Deep and their commercial and critical darling of an album, would lead to him getting a solo deal with Tommy Boy, where he would release his debut album, Episodes Of A Hustla.

Naturally, when you have a producer in your camp that was as hot as Havoc was at the time, you rely on him to shape the sound of your project, and that’s exactly what Noyd did with Episodes. He would also call on Prodigy and a few more of his thug buds to lend some lyrical assistance over the course of the album’s eleven tracks. Even with Mobb Deep’s strong co-sign, Episodes would go under the radar with little commercial success or fanfare.

I found Episodes years after its release for a dollar at a used bookstore. I’ve listened to it once or twice over the years, but this will be my first time thoroughly digging into. So, without further ado…

It’s On YouEpisodes begins with a medley of Noyd related soundbites taken from The Infamous album and placed over a semi-funky instrumental for this makeshift intro.

The Precinct – The intro is followed by this interlude that begins with the “The Grave Prelude” from The Infamous album. Then a Curtis Mayfield loop (borrowed from “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue”) plays while a couple of heavy New York accented Italian detectives rant and rave about wanting to catch the elusive and notorious, Noyd.

Recognize & Realize (Part 1) – Now that we got all the preliminaries out of the way, the first actual song of the night pairs Noyd with his mentor, Prodigy, as the duo take turns trying to out thug each other over a decent Havoc produced instrumental. It’s far from a great record, but still passable.

All Pro – Noyd invites Ty Nitty, Twin, Prodigy and Havoc (though Hav only contributes a few adlibs) to the party for this street hustler cipher session. All parties involved turn in serviceable verses (I love our host’s bar: “Rapper Noyd the soloist, four-pound controloist, comin’ out The Infamous, controllin’ the shit”), but Havoc’s laidback gutter backdrop is the true star of this track.

Infamous Mobb – Havoc provides hauntingly grimy music for Noyd and P, who continue to cover the same territory as the previous two songs.

Interrogation – The detectives from “The Precinct” (who identify themselves as Officers Bruno and White) return for this interlude to question some unidentified brother about the whereabouts of The Infamous Mobb and Noyd over the same Curtis Mayfield loop from “The Precinct.” This adds absolutely nothing to the album, folks.

Usual Suspect – Havoc slides Noyd an energetic bop (I love the animated piano break brought in during the hook) to spit over and he gets off some of his strongest bars of the night (my favorite line being: “My standing, for gat handling is outstanding, I be the thug bustin’ slugs while ya tec jammin’”). And just when you thought this would be Noyd’s first dolo joint of the evening, Prodigy pops up and closes the song with a verse full of rambling that fades out before he finishes.

Episodes Of A Hustla – He faked us out on the previous song, but this title track does give Noyd a chance to shine dolo. Well, almost. P does rear his thugly head to take care hook duties. Unfortunately, Havoc’s sleepy borderline boring instrumental does nothing to help him illuminate.

Recognize & Realize (Part 2) – Havoc gives the original version a facelift, hooking up a sinister backdrop that recycles a portion of Noyd and P’s bars from Part 1, and he temporarily steps from behind the boards to join his thug brothers on the mic, adding a few verses to the record. This version sounds way more impressive than Part 1.

I Don’t Wanna Love Again – After the track opens with the sound of blowing wind, guest vocalist Se’Kou comes in sounding like a woman scorn, as she sings the hook about not “wanting to love again,” followed by two vague verses that lead you to believe some man left her heart broken. Then Noyd gets off a verse that clarifies that this song is not about a romantic love lost, but a dead homie that lost his life in the heartless streets. I’m sure Se’Kou’s indistinct verses and hook, along with the cheesy artificially flavored R&B music, was a strategic ploy to get Noyd a crossover record, which, didn’t work. According to the confusing liner note credits for this song, this is the remix (credited to After Six Entertainment), with Havoc credited for producing the original, which is not included on the album and I’m completely okay with never hearing it.

Usual Suspect (Stretch Armstrong Remix) – Stretch Armstrong (half of the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito) remixes the original track and gives it a breezy summertime feel, and he lets Prodigy’s rambling closing verse from the original play all the way through. I like the original (and after having to hear P’s verse play to the end on this remix, shoutout to Hav for cutting it short), but this remix is super fire.

Episodes Of A Hustla delivers exactly what it promises in the album title. Noyd uses the album’s eleven tracks to celebrate the trife life with Havoc orchestrating the thuggery with his raw and murky production scheme, while Prodigy does his best Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx impression, showing up on nearly every track, but unlike Ghost, he doesn’t get a “featuring” credit or his pic on the album cover. The content on Episodes quickly becomes redundant and it would have been nice to hear Noyd (who proves to be a competent emcee) stand on his own two with less lyrical assistance from P and the crew, but it’s still a decent debut album from “Rapper Noyd, the soloist.” And in this case, the term “soloist,” is used very loosely.

-Deedub

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DJ Shadow – Endtroducing…… (September 16, 1996)

Davis, California is a small city just west of Sacramento with a population of around sixty-eight thousand people. It’s nearly 105 years old and its claim to fame (if that’s what you want to call it) is being the home of the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame. Davis is not known for its hip-hop scene or influence, but it is the home of Joshua Davis, better known to the world as DJ Shadow.

DJ Shadow got his start deejaying for the University of California, Davis campus radio station, KDVS. By that time, he was already an avid record collector and certified hip-hop head and started experimenting with sampling and creating beats. You can research the intricate details on how, but Shadow would eventually ink a deal with the British Label, Mo’ Wax, which was at the forefront of the trip-hop/alternative hip-hop sub-genre in the mid-nineties. After releasing a single and at least one EP on Mo’ Wax, Shadow would release his debut album, Endtroducing in 1996.

Shadow said he named the album Endtroducing because it was his debut album and the “end” of the production style he would use on the project, which he created entirely with only his AKAI MPC60 drum machine, a pair of turntables, Pro-Tools and a heapin’ helpin of records that he would study, chop up and dissect. Endtroducing is widely considered a classic and in 2006 it would earn itself a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums of All-Time and a ranking of 329 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of Greatest Albums of All-Time. It is also in the Guinness World Records for being the first album made completely by samples, and more importantly, Shadow gave Ali Shaheed Muhammed a shoutout in the “More Masters” section of the liner notes, so we check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Through the years, Endtroducing has definitely accumulated its share of fanfare, accolades and hype, but is the music worthy of all the hoopla and praise? Let’s discuss.

Best Foot Foward – DJ Shadow brilliantly chops up a collage of soundbites to introduce himself and Endtroducing to the listening audience.

Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt Endtroducing has some great song titles, with this being one of them. The track begins with a soundbite that cleverly does the speaking for Shadow and his music, while three different piano loops create an emotionally dark mood. Then Shadow adds heavy drums and a ghostly harmony, and right before your eyes the grain instantly turns into vapors. Shadow shows off later on in the track by throwing in a few ill drum breaks and slick wah-wah guitar licks, making an already amazing record sound even better. Random factoid: A portion of this song was used in a Chevrolet commercial. I wonder how nice those Chevy checks was for the kid.

The Number Song – Metal guitars collide with hard drums, placed underneath a bunch of countdown soundbites. This reminded me of some vintage PE/Bomb Squad shit. Dope.

Changeling – Shadow combines airy vibes with plush guitar licks, sweet sax notes and rumbling drums that create a serene experience, except for that moment when the dark storm cloud moves in to disturb the peace. I’d be interested to hear Shadow’s backstory for the song title, but even without an explanation, I enjoyed the track.

Transmission 1 – This short interlude features a staticky voice speaking over a fuzzy radio frequency about dreams, transmitting and broadcasts, while a dark and dull noise lurks in the background, creating spooky tension. Listen to this shit when you’re outside by yourself in the middle of the night and I guarantee you that it’ll give you goosebumps.

What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4) – A few years before DJ Shadow released Endtroducing, he released and EP on Mo’ Wax called What Does Your Soul Look Like, which consisted of four different parts, all named after the EP’s title. Well, as I’m sure you were able to figure out based on the song title, this is Part 4 from that project. Shadow mixes and stirs the perfect loops together to create this mystical instrumental that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to do some introspective soul searching to.

Untitled – Shadow lays down a funky loop and places a random soundbite of a man talking about Maureen and her five sisters, who apparently all have voluptuous asses, but the sister with “eyes as big as Jolly Ranchers” has the beauty to match her booty. This is a super random interlude, but it left me wanting to take a gander at the backyards of these six sisters.

Stem/Long Stem – This one begins with calm instrumentation, but Shadow puts just enough tension in the music for you to sense a storm is brewing. Slowly, the storm clouds move in, and about a minute and a half into the track, you’re smashed in the face with epic EDM vibes and frantic metal chords that join forces to completely fuck your head up. The calm, temporarily, comes back in, accompanied by sophisticated violin strings, and just when you’ve recovered from the first round of musical assault, Shadow whacks you in the dome with another round of mania. This would sound great in an action movie like The Fast & The Furious (interesting enough, DJ Shadow’s “Six Days (Remix)” featuring Mos Def was on the soundtrack for the F&F third installment, Tokyo Drift in 2006). The second half of this (“Long Stem”) uses a lot of the same pieces as the former, but it never moves from its calm state, and after experiencing the brilliant chaos that was the first half, it pales in comparison. But the masterful musical work of the first half more than compensates for the second.

Transmission 2 – This interlude combines a muffled water submerged bass line with solemn piano taps that would work as the perfect theme music for Batman as he looks down at Gotham from the city’s tallest skyscraper after a successful night of crime fighting. Then his proud peace is interrupted by that damn staticky voice, fuzzy frequency and dark noise from “Transmission 1.”

Mutual Slump – I’m not sure who or what Shadow’s referencing in the song title, but he’s definitely not talking about his drums. Once again, our host puts on a clinic in drum sampling and programming with this one.

Organ Donor – Shadow brings back the organ loop that “Long Stem” began with (it reminds me of the Incredible Bongo Band organ loop that Will.i.am flipped at the beginning of Nas’ “Hip-Hop Is Dead” record) and puts a dope drum beat underneath it, turning this into an incredibly entertaining little diddly with a clever song title.

Why Hip-Hop Sucks in ’96 – The song title works as a riddle and during the middle of the smooth pimped out groove, a quick soundbite provides the answer.

Midnight In A Perfect World – Shadow brings back the musical pieces used on “Transmission 2” and adds pounding drums and a little harmony into the mix. The song title matches the wonderfully somber music to a tee.

Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain – This one starts with random soundbites about dogs on the moon and playing checkers, before the listener is greeted by a hypnotic bassline and drums, and seductive wah-wah guitar licks. Then after a short break, “Scatter Brain” shows up to the party and takes the listeners’ ears on a thrilling ride backed by frantic drums that sound like they were diagnosed with ADHD, and that Uncle Luke would be proud of. After three minutes of bouncing off the walls, Scatter Brain finally takes his medication and slowly begins to tire, bringing the record to an end. This was genius.

What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit) – Part 4 gave us mystique and Part 1 falls somewhere in between relaxing and melancholic, built around a jazzy sax sample, slick drum rolls and a soothing vocal melody. Like Part 4, this version is also very suitable for soul searching.

Transmission 3 – More of the same weird dark antics as the first two “Transmissions” with a few additional quirks to creep you out even more.

Over the course of thirteen tracks (or sixteen if you listen to it on a DSP) and just over an hour runtime, Endtroducing takes the listener on an exhilarating musical ride, as DJ Shadow showcases his layered genre-bending production style that’s rooted in hip-hop but too grand to be contained in its confines. Endtroducing combines elements of jazz, soul, rock, metal, classical, electronica and random soundbites, which all sound great, but it’s Shadow’s wide variety of drums that shine the brightest. Via a soundbite on “Grain,” Shadow warns the listener that he’s not only a student of the drums but also a teacher, and he gives a Masterclass throughout Endtroducing with an array of monster drum patterns. The music on Endtroducing creates a gumbo mix of moods, ranging from self-reflection music to exciting cinematic scores, and at least six of the album’s tracks are nuclear bombs that will leave you mesmerized and thoroughly entertained.

Shadow once said in an interview that he chose not to use rappers on Endtroducing because “lyrics were confining” and “too specific.” With the absence of the emcee on the album, you experience that limitlessness in his music. Endtroducing is an absolute classic that stands as a testament to why sampling is and should be respected as a true art form.

-Deedub

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