Erick Sermon – No Pressure (October 19, 1993)

When it comes to hip-hop groups with more than one emcee, EPMD is easily in my top five. From 1988 to 1992 the duo (technically, the trio, if you count DJ Scratch) put out 4 very impressive albums, which were all commercial, as well as critical successes, sealing EPMD’s legacy as hip-hop legends. So when the news broke that the microphone doctors were parting ways (the rumor was E-Double, or someone in his circle, robbed Parrish Smith’s house), my heart broke, a little bit. After the break up both emcees would begin their solo careers. PMD would sign with RCA and release his solo debut in 1994 (an album I never checked for because his flow on the lead single “I Saw It Cummin'” was so corny I couldn’t waste my time (or money) listening to that crap for an entire album…if I find it now for a few bucks I’d probably buy it…just out of curiosity), but Erick Sermon would strike first. Sticking with Def Jam, he would release his solo debut album, No Pressure, in the fall of 1993.

Throughout EPMD’s catalog, E and P both played a part in the production process. For No Pressure, the Green-Eyed Bandit no longer had Parrish to assist him, as he would handle the production single-handedly (for the most part) and round-up a bunch of guest appearances to help carry the lyrical load. No Pressure didn’t move as many units as the previous EPMD albums and it received mixed reviews.

Let’s see how No Pressure stacks up nearly 25 years after its release.

Intro – The album opens with Erick Sermon being swarmed by the Press, then one reporter asks him what he’s going to do to show his appreciation to all his loyal fans, and his response is the next song…

Payback II – The first official song of the evening has Erick paired with newcomer, Joe Synystr (I wonder what happened to that guy), and the two exchange verses, mixing sharp wordplay with comical metaphors. E-Double stays true to his EPMD funk roots, and hooks up a mid-tempo track, whose bass line sounds a lot like the one he and Parrish used for “The Crossover”, but it works well with the bell-like sample sprinkled over it. Nice way to start the show.

Stay Real – This was No Pressure’s first single. E-Double continues to bring the funk with this ruggedly funked out backdrop that has him talkin’ shit and instructing the listener to “stay real”(which was an overly used cliché in the mid nineties). Not a terrible song, but far from great.

Imma Gitz Mine – Erick’s instrumental seems uninspired and his rhymes follow suit.

Hostile – I believe this was the second single from No Pressure, and the song that would introduce the world to Keith Murray. The Green-Eyed Bandit hooks up a cold and dark backdrop, as he and Keith talk tough all over it. I love Erick’s line “for your protection, go sit in the r&b section, for this session”, but Keith Murray walks away with this one, giving us an early glimpse of his huge vocabulary and uncanny ability to manipulate the English language (“Damage to your medulla, cerebrum and cerebellum, ya got a crew ya better tell ’em”). This one still sounds sick.

Do It Up – It was nice to hear E-Double shoutout Commissioned, arguably the dopest gospel group of all time. But that’s the only good thing I can say about this song.

Safe Sex – This is a corny PSA attempt on behalf of our host, placed over an unimaginative sample of James Brown’s “The Payback”.

Hittin’ Switches – This song was original included on the Who’s The Man soundtrack, that was released in April of ’93, and the second single from that album. It’s decent enough, I guess.

Intro – The second half  (or side two) of No Pressure begins similar to the first half: a reporter asks Mr. Sermon who does he think he is and what makes him think he can still sell records, and I guess the next song is supposed to be the response.

Erick Sermon – The rhymes and the instrumental sound a lot like “Hittin’ Switches”.

The Hype – Trash.

Lil Crazy – Shadz Of Lingo (I’m sure most of you won’t remember those guys) join E-Double on this cipher joint. SOL sounds decent on this one, but Erick sounds uninspired and tired, and his instrumental is boring as watching paint dry.

The Ill Shit – Left Coast natives KAM and Ice-Cube drop by to join the E-Double on this one. E’s line about flipping “more vowels than Pat Sajak’s white bitch” (aka Vanna White), sounds forced and like he was trying to appease his black militant counterparts. All three emcees seem like they were more consumed with shouting each other out in their rhymes instead of spitting quality bars. And to add insult to injury, E-Double’s instrumental is trash.

Swing It Over Here – Keith Murray and Redman joint E for what I believe to be the first Def Squad cut featuring all three of its original members. Mostly do to E’s terrible instrumental, it doesn’t go over well, but Keith, Redman and our host’s rhymes aren’t that impressive, either.

Interview – It plays exactly as it reads.

All In The Mind – Erick invites another newcomer Soup (not to be confused with Sup The Chemist) to share mic duties, and Keith Murray, Soup is not. Collin Wolfe stops by and lends some much needed help, giving this instrumental a little bit more life than the previous 7 or 8 songs, but it’s still far from great.

Female Species – The final song of the evening is the only song that Erick Sermon is not the primary producer on. He does get a co-production credit, but Brent Turner is the main production man. Turner hooks up a super laid back instrumental for E-Double to talk about a few fly ladies he’s met. You might not feel this after the first listen, but give it a spin late night after leaving the bar, and I’m sure you’ll love it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve never been a big fan of Erick Sermon’s solo production work. Without PMD, who helped construct the hardcore funk beats that helped shape the EPMD sound, most of E-Double’s funk on No Pressure sounds like soulless boring noise. Speaking of Parrish, his presence is sourly missed on the mic as well, as Erick Sermon has no business (no pun intended) trying to hold down a solo album. Even with the abundant amount of guest appearances on No Pressure there is still too high a dosage of lazily lisped underwhelming rhymes from the green-eyed bandit. Maybe if E-Double put a little pressure on himself for this album the results would have been better. As is, No Pressure is a hot mess.

-Deedub

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Black Moon – Enta Da Stage (October 19, 1993)

By 1993, the paradigm in hip-hop had shifted. New York, the mecca of hip-hop, had dominated the streets and charts since its commercial beginnings with the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” back in 1980, but thanks in large part to Dr. Dre and Snoop who helped usher in the G-Funk era, the West Coast was dominating radio and the charts for the first time. You still had some artist making noise on the East coast (i.e. the Native Tongue collective, LL Cool J, Gang Starr), but nothing matched the hardness and gangster swag of the West. Until Black Moon entered da stage.

Black Moon was the Brooklyn based three-man collective consisting of Buckshot Shorty, 5Ft. Excellerator, and one half of the production team known as Da Beatminerz, DJ Evil Dee. Buckshot, who would pretty much become the voice of Black Moon, wasn’t a part of the original conception of the crew (they actually went by the name Unique Image before wisely switching their name to Black Moon), but after the lead emcee of the original group left because, as Buckshot says in Brian Coleman’s book Check The Technique, “he thought that a record deal was taking to long”, Buckshot, who was a dancer first, decided to put away his dancing shoes and pick up the mic, and the roster that the world would know as Black Moon was formed. The trio began their quest for a deal in early 1991, signed with Nervous in February of 1993, and would release their debut album Enta Da Stage in the fall of that same year.

Evil Dee and his older brother (and production mentor) Mr. Walt (collectively known as the Da Beatminerz) would handle all of the production work on Enta Da Stage. The album sold a decent amount of units and was heralded as a classic by most critics and fans.

Let’s revisit Enta Da Stage and see if it lives up to those accolades.

Powaful Impak!Enta Da Stage opens with a dirty boom-bap backdrop courtesy of Evil Dee, and a young and eager Buckshot Shorty warming up for the rest of the album. This was a nice way to start things and get the listener ready for what’s to come.

Niguz Talk Shit – Now this is hip-hop. From the muffled drums, to the grimy bass line, to the warm horn loops, to Buckshot’s gritty and aggressive shit talkin’; this is what hip-hop is supposed to sound like. This is a guaranteed head noddin’-screw-face classic.

Who Got Da Props? – This was the first single released from Enta Da Stage. Evil Dee slows things down with his smooth and melodic instrumental, as Buckshot displays a third different style in as many songs. This is a classic.

Ack Like U Want It – I remember buying this on cassette back in the day and this song wasn’t on it, but it was on the cd version that I bought a little later after my cassette was eaten by my boombox. 5Ft. Excellerator makes his first appearance of the evening, as he and Buckshot share microphone duties. Da Beatminerz instrumental is a bit cleaner and bouncier than the other songs on the album, but it’s still an enjoyable listen.

Buck ‘Em Down – And we’re right back to the grime. I love Evil Dee’s instrumental, but Buckshot’s ability to adapt his style to go with any instrumental at any BPM, is severely underrated. Side Note: the smoothed out remix to this is even sicker than the original mix. You don’t believe me? Go ahead, listen to it on YouTube and then find your way back and finish reading this post.

Black Smif-N-Wessun – Tek and Steele, better know as Smif-N-Wessun, join Buckshot, as the three bless Evil-Dee’s dark banger (and even though I have no idea what the guy is saying in the vocal sound bite, it’s arguably the sickest sound bite that I’ve ever heard). Tek and Steele are decent, but Buckshot easily has the best verse on this one.

Son Get Wrec – After a Buckshot dominated first half of the album, 5Ft Excellerator shows up for only the second time so far on Enta Da Stage, and this time he gets a solo joint. Evil-Dee’s instrumental is dope and 5Ft sounds decent over it, but this song makes it very clear why Buckshot was the dominate emcee throughout Enta Da Stage.

Make Munne – Just in case you were wondering, “Munne” is the ebonic spelling for “money”. Over a hard and grimy Mr. Walt produced backdrop, Buckshot worships the all mighty dollar bill. This is one of my least favorite songs on the album, but it’s still solid.

Slave – 3rd Bass and Main Source both sampled the same 9th Creation record that Evil Dee uses to build his backdrop around , and while Large Professor’s interpretation of the loop might be the strongest of the three, there is no doubt that Buckshot has the tightest bars out of those same three songs. Another strong record for an already banger filled album.

I Got Cha Opin – Speaking of bangers, Mr. Walt hooks up a nasty headnodder for Buckshot to, um, get open over. It’s amazing how Buckshot can match the grit of Mr. Walt’s instrumental, then come back and do a complete 180 and melodically float over Evil Dee’s breezy Isaac Hayes sampling remix. And both versions are equally dope.

Shit Iz Real – This is arguably my favorite song on Enta Da Stage. Evil Dee does a flawless job on the production side (I love the warm horn loop placed at the beginning of the song and brought in during the hook…and the keyboard sample from Faze-O’s “Riding High” is placed perfectly), and as usual, Buckshot obliterates the track and makes it sound easy in the process.

Enta Da Stage – Take out the first two sentences of my thoughts about  “Make Munne” and insert the rest here.

How Many MC’s… – This was released as the B-side to the “Who Got Da Props?” single , but kind of ended up being its own single (the video for it was pretty ill), and is one of only two songs on Enta Da Stage that both parts of Da Beatminerz get credit for producing. Buckshot takes the mid-tempo banger and turns it into a classic record with his incredible lyrical display.

U Da Man – If there is one song that I had to leave off of Enta Da Stage, this is that song. Buckshot and 5Ft Excellerator invite one of  the EP’s of Enta Da Stage and future co-founder of Duck Down Music, Dru-Ha, aka the ill Caucasian (who according to his verse on this song “always gets the pussy cause I tell ’em that I’m Spanish”…which reminds me of another pet peeve of mine: When people refer to “Spanish” as an ethnic background…it’s a language, people!!), Tek and Steele (Smif-N-Wessun) and Havoc from Mobb Deep to join them on this album ending cipher joint. Sadly, Prodigy didn’t make the song because he was in the hospital due to complications with sickle cell anemia when it was recorded.  Nearly 25 years later, complications with that sickness would end up claiming Prodigy’s life. Time is truly illmatic. Rest in peace, P.

Enta Da Stage is a muffled, gritty and grimy exhibition of excellent hip-hop recorded in arguably the greatest time period in hip-hop’s history, the golden era. From beginning to end Da Beatminerz masterfully mash-up dusty drums and filthy bass lines with rough guitar licks and beautiful horn loops, while Buckshot (sorry 5Ft) plays the conductor, switching his flow up like he suffers from bipolar disorder. And not only does he hold the listener’s attention, but he mesmerizes with his colorful voice and entertains with his quality lyricism. Even with the barely decent posse cut “U Da Man”, Enta Da Stage is nearly flawless and a sure shot classic.

In Brian Coleman’s book Don’t Sweat The Technique, Mr. Walt’s quoted as saying “People say different things about how it went down, but technically we were the ones who brought hip-hop back to the East Coast at the time. Us and Wu-Tang- not Nas and Biggie.” He’s got a point.

-Deedub

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Salt ‘N’ Pepa – Very Necessary (October 12, 1993)

After two gold selling albums, 1990’s Black’s Magic earned Salt ‘N’ Pepa their first platinum plaque, thanks to some pretty solid singles (and Herby Luv Bug aka Geppetto). After working Blacks’ Magic for nearly three years the ladies would return in late ’93 with their fourth release Very Necessary.

Other than Spinderella being more involved on the mic, Very Necessary would use basically the same formula as their previous albums: Herby Luv Bug. It would become a huge commercial win for Salt ‘N’ Pepa, as it produced some pretty big pop hits and would go on to sell over 5 million units in the U.S. alone.

Now, if you read TimeIsIlmatic with any regularity, you already know that commercial success means nothing here. Let’s revisit Very Necessary and see if it lives up to its title.

Groove MeVery Necessary opens with a generic reggae instrumental, produced by Geppetto himself. Salt, Pepa and Spinderella (who strangely, channels Onyx on her verse and sounds ridiculous in the process) invite the listener to groove with them, while someone going by Futuristic Prophet (new nominee for worst moniker of the year) drops by to add some chanting to the song. This was pretty weak.

No One Does It Better – Pardon me, I had some bad rap and r&b. The only thing I enjoyed about this song was Salt’s convincing verse where she plays a certified side chick, very well. Other than that this was trash.

Somebody’s Gettin’ On My Nerves – More trash.

Whatta Man – This was the second single released from the album and would eventually become the biggest commercial hit in Salt N Pepa’s catalog. SNP remake Linda Lyndell’s sixties hit with the same name (well, almost same name (“What A Man”)) and invite En Vogue (remember them?) to sing the hook. I wouldn’t call it a classic hip-hop record, but it was a huge pop hit that I happen to find slightly enjoyable.

None Of Your Business – I believe this was the third single from Very Necessary. Salt, Pep and Spinderella use this one to tell the world it’s none of their business what they do with their vaginas (even if they want to be a “freak and sell it on the weekend”). Years later, Salt would denounce their content and message on this song, but whatever. I don’t know if this is a song I’d want my daughter to look to for inspiration, but it did earn the trio their only Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1995. I never was a fan of it, though.

Step – This is easily my favorite song on Very Necessary. Spinderella and DJ Grand take a funky piano loop and turn it into a wonderfully bouncy instrumental (that vaguely reminds me of some of the music from the old Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids cartoon). Salt, Pep and Spinderella each spit a verse telling their no good man to hit the road. And even though the liner notes don’t credit him, I’d be willing to bet that Dres (from Black Sheep) penned the verses. Listen to the song again and tell me it doesn’t sound like Dres’ bars and flow (ecspecially Pepa’s verse).

Shoop – This was the lead single from the album. This may not have been as big a hit as “Whatta Man”, but it was still a pretty big hit for the ladies. Mark Sparks and Salt (with a co-production credit going to Pep) sample an old Ikettes’ record and turn it into a horny girl anthem (“shoop” is slang for having sex). I’ve never cared much for this one and time hasn’t changed my sentiment.

Heaven Or Hell – This was the fourth single released from Very Necessary. Salt, Pepa and Spin all get a little socially conscious on this one and actually spit some solid rhymes that will leave you with something to chew on. But Steve Azor’s (must be Herby’s brother, cousin or somethin’) instrumental is the true star of this song. This was dope.

Big Shot – Herby’s instrumental was decent, but this is still a throw away track.

Sexy Noises Turn Me On – Corn.

Somma Time Man – More corn.

Break Of Dawn – Salt and Pep take turns spitting random rhymes over a solid melodic Mark Sparks’ backdrop. Pretty enjoyable.

I’ve Got AIDS (PSA)Very Necessary closes with a short skit by a group of kids know as WEATOC Inc. that has a girl confronting her boyfriend after finding out she’s contracted HIV by having unprotected sex with him. Pretty deep (and dark) way to end the album, but hopefully it helped save someone’s life.

Very Necessary may have been a huge commercial success for the lady trio, but as a hip-hop album, not so much. There are only about four songs that really work and the rest of the album is smothered in mediocre production, corny r&b-hip-hop blends, and below average rhyming.  That doesn’t sound very necessary to me.

-Deedub

 

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Leaders of the New School – T.I.M.E. (October 12,1993)

In my opinion, the Leaders of the New School’s debut album, Future Without A Past, was a hot mess with a few bright spots. So, when LONS returned with their follow-up in 1993, I wasn’t rushing to the store to buy it, even if the lead single was fire (but more on that later). A few years ago I came across a copy of their follow-up, T.I.M.E. (which is an acronym for “The Inner Mind’s Eye”) in the used bins for the right price, so I copped it. I mean, it was only a few bucks, so even if everything else on the album is garbage the lead single would justify the purchase. Plus, they’re an extended member of one of the greatest hip-hop collectives of all time: The Native Tongue, so that has to count for something.

T.I.M.E. was received with mixed reviews (which is code for the critics and fans weren’t feeling it) and would be the final project in LONS’ short lived catalog. And while Charlie Brown, Dinco D and Milo’s hip-hop career would begin to fade, Busta Rhymes was just getting started.

I’ve listened to T.I.M.E. a few times over the past few years, and like their debut, I wasn’t crazy about it, but let’s see if that changes now.

EternalT.I.M.E. opens with a simple beat and LONS chanting the group’s name…followed by a different simple beat underneath Busta, as he repeats the album title, both the acronym and the long hand, several times over.

Understanding The Inner Mind’s Eye – For the first official song of the evening, Charlie Brown hooks up an airy and melodic backdrop for he, Busta and Dinco D to help the listener understand the meaning of T.I.M.E. They didn’t really do a great job of explaining it, but you’ll definitely understand and appreciate the instrumental.

Syntax Era – I remember hearing this one quite a bit on the late night hip-hop mix on a local radio station around my way back in the day, and I never cared for it. Today I still don’t care much for Busta, Charlie and Dinco’s bars, but Backspin’s instrumental sounds kind of cool now.

Classic Material – This was the second single released from T.I.M.E. Backspin’s instrumental is dry as The Sahara Desert, and the foursome’s (Milo (I refuse to call him Milo In De Dance) makes his first appearance of the evening) mundane rhymes don’t help matters. Side note: The jazzy Diamond D remix is kind of dope, and gave the song a new life.

Daily Reminder – More mundane rhymes from LONS, but R.P.M’s (from Rumpletilskinz) production work is actually kind of nice on this one.

A Quarter To Cutthroat – More of the same humdrum rhymes from the foursome, but the heavy drums and piano loop on the production end are decent.

Connections – Trash.

What’s Next? – This was the lead single from T.I.M.E. , and pretty much the only reason I was interested in buying the album in the first place. Dinco D sets the tone with his feel good summertime backdrop, and it instantly makes all four of the emcee’s rhymes come to life, especially Busta and Milo’s verses. Yes, I said Milo’s verse.

Droppin’ It-4-1990-Ever – Quick interlude that mashes up pieces of the songs on T.I.M.E.

Time Will Tell –  It may be worth noting that Rampage (who would later be known for being part of Busta Rhyme’s Flipmode Squad), along with Backspin, get credit for the production work, and I’m on the fence whether I like it or hate it. But I’m positive that LONS’ rhymes are sub par.

Bass Is Loaded – Bass Is Loaded…bases loaded…get it? Busta Rhymes licks his production chops and knocks this one out the park (HA!) as he and each of his team members take a swing (HA!) at his rough backdrop.

Spontaneous (13 MC’s Deep!) – LONS invites a few of their friends to join them on this cipher joint, which as you can probably tell from the song title, includes a total of 13 emcees: Cool Whip, Brittle, Saltine, Rampage, Blitz, Kallie Weed, and three of the members of Rumpletilskinz (The Capitol L.S., Sha-Now aka Remedy Man and Jeranimo) join Milo, Charlie, Dinco and Busta on a very underwhelming posse cut (where is Q-Tip, Posdnuos, Phife and Trugoy at?). Long Time 3rd Bass contributor, Sam Sever hooks up a cool laid back instrumental, but it doesn’t have enough energy to support a posse joint.

Noisy Meditation – Busta gets his second production credit of the evening and this one is also a winner. If “Bass Is Loaded” was a homerun (prepare for another corny baseball pun coming up next) “Noisy Meditation” is a double. But a hit’s a hit, right?

The End Is Near – This was pretty weak.

Zearocks – Somebody (no one is credited for it in the album’s liner notes) hooks up a fire instrumental for this interlude. I wonder why they didn’t use this one to rhyme over. Maybe they didn’t want to take away from the track’s fierceness.

The Difference – Busta gets production credit for the last official song on T.I.M.E. and I’m convinced that LONS should have just put the production keys in Busta’s hands for the entire album. While his first two instrumentals had a heavy jazz flavor, this one is gutter, and all four of the emcees adapt to and sound pretty decent rhyming over it.

The Final SolutionT.I.M.E. ends with Busta blabbing about T.I.M.E. and how controlling and mastering it is man’s only real purpose in this life (*yawn*). And we’re done.

When I bought T.I.M.E. a few years ago, I listened to it a few times and wasn’t a fan. After revisiting the album this week I have to admit that it’s not as terrible as I originally thought. A few of the instrumentals on T.I.M.E. are actually fire, but there are just not enough flames throughout. The majority of the instrumentals range from decent to mediocre, and unfortunately, the foursome’s rhymes fall in between those parameters as well (yes, including Busta…his energy is there, but he had yet to sharpen his lyrical razor; that wouldn’t happen until he went solo). So, even though T.I.M.E. is not as terrible as I once thought, it’s also not a solid effort, either. Instead of grading it a an “F”, I’d give it a “C+” or a “D+”. Proven the old adage true that time heals all wounds. Sort of.

-Deedub

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DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Code Red (October 12, 1993)

We last heard from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince in 1991 with their platinum selling album Homebase, whose commercial success was directly linked to the album’s hit first single “Summertime”. Not only did the duo have a successful album under their belt, but The Fresh Prince also had one of the hottest TV shows on television at the time (if you don’t know what show I’m referring to I’m going to ask you to do a little research), so the world was pretty much at their feet. So, what would they do next? Release another album, of course.

Even though it did earn the duo a gold plaque, compared to Homebase, Code Red was a bit of a commercial flop, and the critics and fans didn’t think highly of it, either. Code Redwould be the final album from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince as a group, though they would both go on to release solo projects afterwards. And The Fresh Prince bka Will Smith, was just beginning his rise to superstardom.

Somethin’ Like Dis – Wow, I had no idea that Pete Rock produced this song. Unfortunately, it’s not one if his stronger pieces of work, but I probably wouldn’t waste my best work on Will, I mean, The Fresh Prince’s flimsy rhymes, either.

I’m Looking For The One (To Be With Me) – This was the second single released from Code Red. If you absolutely hate this song, I completely understand. It does meddle in the road of cheesy R&B and hip-hop, but I kind of like it. Specifically, I like Teddy Riley’s synthy r&b backdrop, as it has good vibes dripping all over it. I could care less for FP’s weak rhymes, but the instrumental is definitely suitable for your summertime old school mix, if that’s even really a thing.

Boom! Shake The Room – This was the lead single from Code Red, and it sounds even cornier today than it did back in ’93. FP stays consistent, delivering more garbage rhymes (including an embarrassing third verse where he takes on a ridiculous stutter style) and a laughable hook, while Mr. Lee serves up a trash instrumental to match. I’m sure this song is the reason I never checked for Code Red when it came out back in the day.

Can’t Wait To Be With You – More corn. Will Smith, I mean, The Fresh Prince, gets the production credit for this one, as he swipes a loop from Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” for the backdrop, and invites Christopher “I never liked you anyway, pretty muthafucker” Williams to sing on the hook. Pardon me, I had some bad rap and R&B.

Twinkle Twinkle (I’m Not A Star) – On the song “Pride” from his classic DAMN. album, Kendrick Lamar says “I won’t fake humble because your ass is insecure”, and that is exactly what FP does on this song. It’s safe to say that Will Smith (or The Fresh Prince) has been a celebrity since the late eighties, and with the help of his hit TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he was a bona fide star by 1993, and I’m sure he was fully aware of that. Props to DJ Jazzy Jeff for the fresh instrumental, though.

Code Red – I’m so disappointed right now. Before today, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Pete Rock produced two songs on Code Red, with “Somethin’ Like Dis” being the first, and this being the second, and both of them are terrible. FP’s storyline and rhymes on this one are just as terrible.

Shadow Dreams – FP uses this one to inspire the listener to chase their dreams. I’m not sure why he decided to take on the monotone delivery for this one, I guess that’s his serious voice? Regardless of how simple his lyrics are, kudos to FP for the positive message, and strong props to Hula and K. Fingers for the dope instrumental.

Just Kickin’ It – Hula and K. Fingers keep the good times rolling with this smooth backdrop that FP uses to spit his strongest rhymes of the entire album over. Even if you don’t like FP’s rhymes, if you have a soul, you’ll feel the beautiful instrumental.

Ain’t No Place Like Home – This is easily my favorite song on Code Red. Xavier Hargrove hooks up a laid back soulful instrumental that FP starts off reminiscing over, and that quickly leads to him getting home sick and making his way back home to Philly to catch up with the family. Yes, the rhymes are a bit sloppy and a little cheesy at points, but they’re heartfelt, which allows you (or at least, me) to overlook the flaws in them. I never get tired of listening to this one.

I Wanna Rock – FP pays homage to Jazzy Jeff, as he also gets to displays some of the DJ skills that make many consider him one of the best to ever do it. This was decent.

Scream – Dallas Austin gets a production credit for this one. It’s not a bad song, it’s just that it’s not that good, either.

Boom! Shake The Room (Street Remix) – As Trip from Juice so elegantly put it: “Just ’cause you pour syrup on shit doesn’t make it pancakes”.

There are way too many bad songs on Code Red to justify its twelve song length. While there are a handful of quality instrumental, FP’s rhymes are consistently bad throughout. Maybe Hollywood was taking his focus away from the bars. I mean, he was never a top-tier lyricist, but I’m sayin’.  Code Red might have worked as a five or six song EP, but as a full length album, not even close.

-Deedub

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Souls Of Mischief – ’93 Til Infinity (September 28, 1993)

And today’s post completes the trilogy of September 28th 1993 releases.

When Del The Funky Homosapien came on the scene in ’91 with his debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here (read my thoughts on that album here) he definitely introduced the world to a different perspective than it was used to hearing from a west coast emcee. Even though he was from Oakland, he didn’t present a pimp or gangster persona (despite the fact that his cousin was Ice-Cube), but instead he represented the common man that did and talked about everyday Joe kind of things. And after Del established his footing in the game, he would introduce the world to his Hieroglyphics crew, who shared a like mindset. The first installment of his Hiero crew that he would introduce to the world, would be Souls of Mischief.

Like Del, Souls of Mischief (which consists of A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai) were also born and raised in Oakland. The four met in junior high and high school, where they formed the group, and soon would sign a deal with Jive, and release their debut album 93 ‘Til Infinity. Even though it didn’t move a ton of units, 93 ‘Til Infinity was a critical darling, and The Source (when the magazine still had street cred) named it one of The 100 Best Rap Albums of all time.

Through the years, some of the members have recorded solo albums, but they have all stayed faithful to the foundation, and have recorded 6 albums, with the latest being released in 2014. So far they’ve stayed true to their debut album’s title.

Let ‘Em Know93 ‘Til Infinity opens with mid-tempo drums, a thumpin’ bass line and a sick trumpet loop, that has all four members of Souls Of Mischief dropping the most articulate battle rhymes that I’ve ever heard. Seriously, these dudes sound like nerd emcees, but don’t get it twisted, these dudes can spit.

Let ‘And Let Live – Opio, Tajai and A-Plus each give their dissertation about gun violence in America’s inner cities, and Phesto’s left with hook duties. Domino hooks up a mid-tempo jazzy backdrop, and Bill Ortiz adds some live trumpet chords. All these piece come together to form a masterpiece of a song.

That’s When Ya Lost – Most probably forgot about this song, because of the massive hit that the second single became, but this was actually the first single released from 93 ‘Til Infinity. Del gets his first production credit of the evening, and he cooks up a dope instrumental for the Souls to spit all over. It’s awesome to hear four emcees with four distinctively different voices, that are all equally skilled. This one still sounds sick.

A Name I Call Myself – Hey, even nerd emcees like sex. Del continues his streak of dope instrumentals, and constructs this smooth backdrop for the foursome to wax poetic about smashing PYT’s. Side note: Phesto sounds like the early years version of Phife-Dawg on this one (rip).

Disseshowedo – If I could leave one song off the album this would probably be the one.

What A Way To Go Out – On this one each member of Souls plays the role of a dude living life in the fast lane, until the consequences of their actions come back to bite them square in the ass. If kids actually learned from other’s experiences instead of having to experience things for themselves, this would be a great warning record to play for pre-teens and above. By the way, Domino’s backdrop is super low-key , but still pretty dope.

Never No More – This is tied for my favorite song on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Usually, I’m not a fan of battle rhymes being spewed over quiet storm instrumentals, but this is an exception. A-Plus’ soothing instrumental would be the perfect soundtrack for a massage, and the Souls’ rhymes work over it because of their articulation and instrument like vocal tones. I don’t care how many times I listen to this song, I never get tired of it.

93 ‘Til Infinity – This was the second single, and may be the greatest hip-hop album title track of all time. A-Plus’ instrumental is both intense and melodic, and the way A-Plus, Tajai, Opio and Phesto tag team the mic, they sound like an updated west coast version of the Cold Crush Brothers. This is a flawless classic.

Limitations – Casual drops in to contribute a verse, and Del handles the hook (and parting words), while the Souls continue to boast of their greatness and discredit all other emcees, over a Jay Biz produced instrumental. This was solid.

Anything Can Happen – Tajai sets up the scene with his verse, as he watches his childhood friend get murdered by gun shots, and his mom also gets hit when the shots are fired. Instead of calling 911, Tajai finds the nearest payphone (some of ya’ll may need to Google “payphone” to find out what that is) and calls Opio, and the rest of the Souls crew get involved seeking revenge for Tajai’s injured mom and deceased buddy. Yes, I know this is hard to believe coming from these guys, but at least they do a great job of sticking to the storyline, and the instrumental is solid. Plus, murder has never sounded so elegant.

Make Your Mind Up – And this is the other song tied for my favorite on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Del gets his final production credit of the evening, and he definitely saves his best for last, as he flips the shit out of a Ramsey Lewis loop and turns it into beautiful perfection (I absolutely love the way the bass line gyrates up and down the track). Phesto sits this one out, and lets A Plus, Opio and Tajai talk their shit over Del’s masterpiece, and they compliment his canvas, wonderfully.

Batting Practice –  Remember what I said about “Disseshowedo”? This one runs neck to neck with it for weakest song on the album.

Tell Me Who Profits – SOM uses the last real song of the evening to get slightly conscious, as they address/question the drug epidemic in America’s urban cities, amongst other things. You may recognize one of the loop’s Casual uses for the instrumental from Jay-Z’s “Coming Of Age”. Not my favorite song on 93 ‘Til Infinity, but it’s solid.

Outro – Over a simple Domino produced instrumental, SOM give their shoutouts, which coincidentally includes a shoutout to their same day debut release buddy, YZ.

On 93 ‘Til Infinity, Souls of Mischief sound like a hybrid of hip-hop and Shakespeare, kind of like when Mekhi Phifer played Othello in the movie “O”, only 93 ‘Til Infinity is actually worth the cost of admission. Over the course of thirteen songs, SOM construct meticulously articulate rhymes over hard-hitting drums and jazz vibes, that would lead one to believe these dudes were from the east coast, as they sound nothing like the west coast g-funk sound that dominated the left coast in the mid nineties. 93 ‘Til Infinity is not without flaws, but it’s a strong statement from SOM that holds up well, all these years later.

-Deedub

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KRS-One – Return Of The Boom Bap (September 28, 1993)

Part deux of the September, 28 1993 releases.

We last heard from KRS-One (not withstanding his cameo appearances on other artists’ albums) on BDP’s 1992 release, Sex And Violence, which would be the final album released by Boogie Down Productions. As I mentioned in my post for Sex And Violence, Kris had pretty much cut out the bulk of the members in BDP before the album was released, so it was only a matter of time before he would go solo. And he would do just that in 1993 with his first solo effort, Return of the Boom Bap.

For ROTBB, Kris would recruit the legendary DJ Premier and Kid Capri to produce the bulk of the album, and he and a few others would handle the remaining balance of songs. ROTBB wasn’t a commercial success, but it was a critical darling, which should come as no surprise, considering how respected of an emcee that KRS-One is.

KRS-ONE AttacksROTBB opens with a Premo instrumental built around a dope piano loop, with KRS-One soundbites placed over it. Nice way to start to the evening.

Outta Here – This was the lead single from ROTBB. Kris uses his verses on this one to paint a brief bio of his humble hip-hop beginnings to his rise to emcee supremacy with Boogie Down Productions. Premo hooks up a simple, but intense, instrumental as Kris discusses living in the shelter, meeting Scott LaRock, meeting Rakim and Public Enemy, loosing Scott LaRock, and rappers who cool off and lose their record deal, video and $5,000 loveseat. I didn’t really like this song back in the day, but I can definitely appreciate Premo’s beat and Kris’ sharp lyrics more today than back then. Fine wine, baby.

Black Cop – On this self-produced track, KRS discusses the crooked, misguided and brainwashed black cops that mistreat the black community in which they are supposed to serve. Kris’ ragamuffin’ delivered content is solid, but I’ve never been able to get into his drab instrumental.

Mortal Thought – Premo whips up a beauty of a backdrop for this one, as Kris’ limber tongue and lyrics dance wonderfully all over it. This one is fire, and a classic boom bap record.

I Can’t Wake Up – Our host is stuck in a dream that he’s a blunt, but not just any blunt. Over the course of three verses, Kris has the pleasure of getting smoked by several of your favorite hip-hop artists (including his once enemy, Das EFX…apparently they made up by the fall of 1993) before finally being refused by the drug free emcee, Chubb Rock (Kris references a line from Chubb’s verse from “Back To The Grill”). I’m not a huge fan of Premo’s instrumental or Kris’ storyline.

Slap Them Up – Kris is joined by his buddy Ill Will, as the two tag team the mic over a dope melodic mid-tempo instrumental that’s credited to a Norty Cotto and Douglas Jones. Ill Will does a decent job of keeping up with the teacher, until Kris completely obliterates him, and the beat, on his final verse. This was dope.

Sound Of Da Police – This is another one that I wasn’t really a fan of back in the day. Showbiz hooks up a simple and dark backdrop for Kris to discuss the history of police in America (which includes a borderline stretch of “officer” being derived from the term “overseer”) to the current state of police brutality on black men, which sadly, is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. “My grandfather had to deal with the cops, my great-grandfather dealt with the cops, my great-grandfather had to deal with the cops, and then my great, great, great, great…when is it gonna stop?”. This one definitely sounds better today then it did in ’93.

Mad Crew – Kris’ instrumental is cool, but his lyrics are the true star of this one. So, just sit back and watch one of the best to ever grip a mic show you how it’s done.

Uh Oh – This one is unique. Kris gets credit for the production, so I’m assuming it’s his own voice that he loops and stacks to create the instrumental. He then pulls out his ragamuffin’ style to share three different tales of kids with guns that all end in death. Kris’ “beat” is kind of weak, but the stories were clear and delivered effectively.

Brown Skin Woman – Kris gets his ragamuffin flow on over a solid Kid Capri (who, thanks to his cameos throughout Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, is now known by a whole new generation of hip-hop lovers) instrumental, showing respect to the black women, so you can’t hate on that.

Return Of The Boom Bap – I hated this song back in the day, and I still hate it now. The only thing about this song that I enjoyed was the quick and effective jab he takes at his nemesis, PM Dawn (“On and on to the PM Dawn, two buckshots and your squad is gone”…rip Prince Be). Other than that, this song was pretty worthless, which is sad, since it is the title song.

“P” Is Still Free – Kris picks up where he left off at on Criminal Minded’s “Remix For P Is Free”, as he shares a few tales about scandalous women doing whatever it takes to get the crack, rock that is. This may be my least favorite Premo produced song in his legendary catalog, and it’s easily the weakest song on ROTBB. But, I’m sure there is somebody out there that completely disagrees with me on that.

Stop Frontin’ – Kid Capri gets his second production credit of the evening, placing a smooth piano loop over soft drums, and a cool horn sample, that Kris uses to breeze through, making the art of emceeing look like elementary. Capri also squeezes a quick verse in between KRS-One’s, and he doesn’t sound bad. This is definitely one of my favorite songs on ROTBB.

Higher Level – Premo gets his final production credit of the evening, and he saves his best for last, as he turns a sick loop from Gene Page’s “Blackula” into a disgusting instrumental that will make you screw your face and nod your head, uncontrollably. Kris uses it to discuss religion and politics in America, as he instructs the listener to “vote for God, don’t vote for the devil”. There is not any better way he could have ended the album than with this monster of a masterpiece.

The chip that was squarely on KRS-One’s shoulder throughout Sex And Violence is clearly gone on Return of the Boom Bap. But don’t get it twisted, the teacher is still sharp as a razor. KRS-One laces the album with pristine rhymes and sound lessons throughout. It would have been nice to hear Premo produce the entire album, instead of just half, as the production is a bit uneven throughout ROTBB, but there are still enough bangers to keep you attentive, and Kris’ lyrical dexterity and clarity will keep you entertained, even when the instrumentals fail.

-Deedub

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