The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die (September 13, 1994)

From the mid-eighties to early nineties, Big Daddy Kane was the undisputed King of Brooklyn, but by 1994 (some may contest even earlier) it was clear that his reign was coming to an end. The mid-nineties would usher in a new wave of emcees influenced by the Kane’s, the Rakim’s and KRS-One’s. A young Queensbridge emcee named Nas would drop what many consider to be the greatest hip-hop album of all-time in Illmatic (to which I concur) and label him the second coming of Rakim. While over in Brooklyn a hungry street hustler named Jay-Z was beginning to find his footing as an emcee and make a legitimate run at Kane’s soon to be vacant Brooklyn throne. 1994 would also see another young and hungry Brooklynite emerge and take aim at becoming the new king of Brooklyn. The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls.

The first time I heard Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace rhyme was on Heavy D’s cipher joint “A Buncha Niggas” from his 1992 Blue Funk album. The world probably first became familiar with Big from his 1993 cameo appearance on Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby (Remix)” (I still remember Big rockin’ the black and white bandana with the cheap looking black and yellow hockey jersey that had “B.I.G.” plastered on the front of it in the video) rhyming next to Jesse “Third Eye” West and Puff Daddy. Around the same time, Puffy was getting his Bad Boy label off the ground, and while Craig Mack (rip) was the first artist to release a single on Bad Boy, Biggie’s (whose debut single came out two weeks after Mack’s debut single “Flava In Ya Ear”) debut album Ready To Die would come out a week before Mack’s debut Project: Funk Da World, and the rest is history.

Ready To Die would feature production by a host of producers (including the first inception of Puffy’s Production team, The Hitmen), but a large chunk would be handled by the often overlooked and underrated, Easy Mo Bee. The album would go to be a critical and commercial darling (by 1995 the album was 2 times platinum and by April of 2018 it had sold over 6 million units) that many consider to be a classic (The Source would put it in their Top 100 Albums of All Time in 1998), and it would thrust Biggie into superstardom and make him a viable candidate for the new King of Brooklyn, if not all of New York.

Unfortunately, Ready To Die would be the only album released while Biggie was alive, as he would be gunned down in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997, just two weeks before his second album Life After Death would be released. His untimely demise would render both album titles equally ironic and spooky and speak truth to the biblical proverb that life and death are in the power of the tongue.

On a lighter note, Big does shout out A Tribe Called Quest in the album’s liner notes, so you can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation on this one.

IntroReady To Die opens with a short intro that quickly goes through four phases of Biggies life: birth, his childhood years, his teen years and finally, him getting out of jail after doing a bid (Biggie actually did spend 9 months behind bars back in 1991 for moving weight). The intro ends with Biggie vowing to the Corrections Officer that he’s never coming back to jail, and the next song begins…

Things Done Changed – The first song of the evening has Biggie comparing how things used to be in the hood to how corrupt they’ve gotten in 1993: “back in the days are parents used to take care of us, look at ’em now, they even fuckin’ scared of us, callin’ the city for help because they can’t maintain, damn, shit done changed”. Dominic Owens and Kevin Scott get credit for the hard and dark instrumental that complements our host’s rhymes, perfectly.

Gimme The Loot – This song has Biggie basically doing a duet with himself, as he and his alter ego (who raps like Biggie from “A Buncha Niggas” from Heavy D’s Blue Funk album) are in thug mode and take turns talking about their ill deeds and what they’ll do to get the money. Normally, this kind of content would come off as sinister, but the animated back and forth between Biggie and um, Biggie, makes it hard to take the two serious. And as much as I love Easy Mo Bee, this sloppy instrumental is also hard to take serious.

Machine Gun Funk – Mo Bee quickly redeems himself from the previous track and lays down this slick mid-tempo funk masterpiece. Biggie sounds right at home and smoothly flows over it like water on the Nile.  You can definitely tell Biggie recorded this one later than the first two songs on Ready To Die, as his flow sounds way more polished than the former. This is an overlooked gem and one of my favorite songs on the album.

Warning – This may be one of the most underrated hip-hop songs off all time. Easy Mo Bee provides a beast of an instrumental for Big and he uses it to string together one of the greatest storytelling rhymes of all-time. Right after Mo Bee drops the bomb and it explodes into the tough bass line and hard drums, Biggie keeps the listener intrigued from the jump, as he tries to identify the number coming across on his pager (remember those?): “Who the fuck is this, paging me a 5:46, in the morning, crack of dawnin’, now I’m yawnin’, wipe the cold out my eye, see who’s this pagin’ me, and why”. The plot only gets thicker than Kim Kardashian’s ass from there (but naturally). Big proceeds to spew his warning to the potential jackers and drops one of the most witty bars in hip-hop history (there’s gonna be a lot of slow singin’, and flower bringin’, if my burglar alarm starts ringin'”). This is an undeniable classic and easily in my top 5 Biggie songs of all time.

Ready To Die – The title track finds our host frustrated, violent and ready to leave the planet (and take a few emcees with him), as he spews his demented rhymes over Easy Mo Bee’s murky instrumental. Mo Bee mixes hazy organ chords with an ill guitar loop and muddy drums that set the tone for Big’s dark rhymes. Once again, you can tell by Big’s flow that this was one of the older records on the album (that and the fact that he shouts out “’93” at the end of the song), but it still works.

One More Chance – Over a decent flippage of a loop from Debarge’s classic record “All This Love” (courtesy of the Bad Boy Hitmen: Norman & Digga aka Bluez Brothers, Chucky Thompson and Puffy), Biggie boasts about his sexual prowess, referring to himself as the “pussy crusher, black nasty motherfucka”, while Total sings the hook. This O.G. mix is solid, but has nothing on the monster Rashad Smith produced remix (which is built around another dope Debarge sample) that most casual fans are familiar with. Side note: According to Lil Cease’s interview on N.O.R.E.’s Drink Champs podcast, Nas was supposed to make a cameo on the remix, but was so high he couldn’t deliver a verse. If this is true, can you imagine how much more epic the classic remix would have been? Damn.

#!*@ Me (Interlude) – This short interlude has a woman fake moaning and calling Big some pretty comical names (“fuck me you black Kentucky Fried Chicken eatin’…you chronic smokin’…Oreo cookie eatin’…pickle juice drinkin’…muthafucka”) as he proceeds to stroke her kitty and help her reach the “climax her man can’t make”, while Jodeci’s “Feenin” blasts in the background. It’s mildly amusing the first few listen (or if you haven’t heard it in nearly 25 years), but it doesn’t have much replay value.

The What – Method Man makes the only rap cameo appearance (I’m not counting Biggie’s cheesy “A Buncha Niggas” alter ego that appeared on “Gimmie The Loot”) on Ready To Die, as he and Big tag team the mic over a loopy slightly drunken Easy Mo Bee produced instrumental. Most of you won’t agree with this comment, but this song hasn’t aged well. Feel free to verbally stone me in the comments, folks.

Juicy – This was the lead single from Ready To Die and the song that would introduce most of the world to The Notorious B.I.G. Poke (half of the production duo, Trak Masterz) builds the instrumental around a lazy loop from Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit”, as Biggie rhymes about his rise from rags to riches. Poke’s uncreative loop wound up being genius, as this song is a hip-hop standard that is guaranteed to get the party started during any nineties old school mix.

Everyday Struggle – Biggie uses this one to discuss the struggle and stress that comes with being a street hustler in the hood, and the despair that’s got him ready to check out (” I know how it feel to wake up, fucked up, pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell, people look at you like you’s the user, selling drugs to all the losers, mad Buddah abuser…but they don’t know about your stressed filled day, baby on the way, mad bills to pay, that’s why you drink Tanqueray, you can reminisce, and wish, you wasn’t livin’ so devilish”). The Hitmen build a beautiful upbeat instrumental around a loop of something you might hear in an elevator, and even in its complete contrast to Biggie’s hardcore rhymes, the two blend together in perfect harmony. I love this song, and it sounds just amazing today as it did 25 years ago.

Me & My Bitch – “When I met you I admit, my first thought was a trick, you look so good (uh), I’ll suck on your daddy’s dick”. Who will ever forget these classic, controversial and downright awkward opening lines to this hood love story? The Hitmen slide Biggie a smooth, yet slightly dark, backdrop with a cinematic feel that our host uses to display more of his brilliant story telling skills. Yet another great song on Ready To Die.

Big Poppa – This was the second single from Ready To Die and the song that would thrust The Notorious B.I.G. into superstardom. Chucky Thompson (with a co-production credit going to Puffy) loops up a sample from the Isley Brothers’ classic “Between The Sheets”, as Biggie leans back on it and smoothly spits some old Brooklyn player shit that is guaranteed to keep your head bobbin’. This is an undeniable hip-hop classic.

Respect – Biggie rhymes his bio over a rugged break beat. Jamaican Dancehall singer, Diana King stops by to handle the hook and sprinkles adlibs over Poke’s dusty instrumental. It’s not a great song, but it makes for decent filler material.

Friend Of Mine – I absolutely hate everything about this song. Big’s flow was still in the early developmental stages, the concept and content are corny and Easy Mo Bee’s instrumental is down right terrible.

Unbelievable – Premo laces our host with a blunted mid-tempo instrumental that Big dismantles with ease. This here is some timeless shit.

Suicidal Thoughts – The final track of the evening finds our host rhyming about exactly what the song title suggest. The song opens with Biggie making a phone call to Puffy, who answers and then our host begins his suicidal rant: “When I die, fuck it, I wanna go to hell, cause I’m a piece of shit it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell, it don’t make sense going to heaven with the goody goodies dressed in white, I like black Timbs and black hoodies”.  Ultimately, the song ends with Biggie pulling the trigger on himself. The Lord Finesse produced instrumental is so drab and depressing that it makes me want to do the same.

Ready To Die showcases a young and hungry Brooklyn wordsmith and emcee cutting his teeth on his debut album. There are a few production missteps during Ready To Die, but overall, The Hitmen, Easy Mo Bee and the rest, do a pretty impressive job with the beats. My biggest issue with Ready To Die (other than the blatant biting of Illmatic‘s album cover, which Ghost and Rae would indirectly call Big out for on an Only Built 4 Cuban Linx interlude the following year) is the inconsistency in Biggie’s flow, as it sounds way more chiseled on the songs recorded later compared to the songs that were recorded earlier in the process when he was still working out the kinks in his presentation. All in all, the good far out ways the bad, as Biggie gives us some greats songs and a handful of classics, making Ready To Die a strong debut and one of the standout moments of 1994.

-Deedub

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Big Daddy Kane – Daddy’s Home (September 13, 1994)

After losing some respect and street cred from a lot of his male fan base with the debacle that was Prince Of Darkness (that also included the posse cut “Come On Down” that Q-Tip was a guest on (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check)), Big Daddy Kane came back in 1993 with Looks Like A Job For. The album was solid, but its overly hardcore themes felt like Kane let the naysayers get to him and was over compensating for what Prince Of Darkness lacked. Kane would return in 1994 with his sixth and first album not on the Cold Chillin’ imprint (it was released on MCA), Daddy’s Home.

As the artwork suggest, Daddy’s Home would feature a fully grown BDK, fully embracing his masculinity and no longer seeming fazed by what his critics had to say about his music. Daddy’s Home would also find Kane delving deeper into the production side of things, as he’s credited with producing 5 of the album’s 13 tracks, along with co-mixing the entire album. Daddy’s Home received mix reviews, and like his previous three albums, it didn’t move a ton of units.

I wasn’t crazy about this album when it came out back in 1994. Let’s revisit it and see how its aged over time.

Daddy’s Home – Kane gets the title track out of the way right away, as he kicks back in his recliner and house shoes and breezes over this smooth LG (the same LG who previously went by The LG Experience on Ill Al Skratch’s Creep Wit’ Me) produced track. I usually prefer my hip-hop album opening tracks with more energy, but Kane’s effortless flow over the pleasant instrumental still works.

Brooklyn Style…Laid Out – Kane invites his backup dancer turned rapper, Scoob Lover (who at this point was going by his rap alias, Big Scoob) to join him on this rap duet. For some reason, Scoob gets away from the straight forward rhyming approach he used on previous Kane records (see “Down The Line” and “Chocolate City”) and adapts a super gimmicky and annoying nasally flow on Daddy’s Home. I wonder if Kane ever told him how corny this shit was. When you couple Scoob’s ear grating style with Easy Mo Bee’s cheesy instrumental, not even King Asiatic can save this song.

In The PJ’s – This was the lead single from Daddy’s Home. Kane licks his production chops and builds this smooth groove around a dope Teddy Pendergrass loop, as he reminisces about his childhood in the hood and shows love to all his peeps in the PJ’s across the globe. Because, as he elegantly puts it during the song’s first verse: “Just because I moved out the residence, it don’t mean that I can’t represent”. This was a mild hit for Kane, but I felt it should have been a bigger hit, as it feels like the perfect summertime groove.

Show & Prove – Kane invites Scoob, Sauce Money, Shyheim, pre-Reasonable Doubt and billionaire status, Jay-Z (who the liner notes credit at “J.Z.”) and Ol Dirty Bastard to join him on this cipher joint. Our host wiggles his way in the middle, batting fourth in the six man line-up, and raps circles around his guests and Premo’s solid boom bap backdrop. I think it’s a solid cipher joint. Do ya’ll consider it a classic posse joint? Hit me in the comments.

Lyrical Gymnastics – LG gets his second and final production credit of the evening and he builds this beauty around an ill Barry White loop. Kane does exactly what the song title suggest and back flips, front flips, handsprings and summersaults all over this shit, easily spittin’ over 100 bars without a break: “rappers today be coming as gangsta rhyme type, and be so soft they wouldn’t even kill time right, here’s the news, you’re lettin’ the word hardcore be misused, you ain’t never paid dues, be for real you ain’t tough yet, the razor bumps on your throat is the only thing making you a rough neck, your whole image is a damn sham, I’m glad in this business I didn’t forget who I am, I always remain the Kane inside a battle, never to walk in anyone’s shadow”. I’ve never heard Veteranz Day, but this may be Kane’s last great battle rap song.

That’s How I Did ‘Em – Kane spits three verses on this song: the first is dedicated to a wack emcee, the second, to a bootlegger (for those unaware of what a bootlegger is, go ahead and Google “Music Bootlegger” and educate yourself) and the final verse is a reminder to anyone within ear shot that Kane is the wrong nigga to fuck wit on the mic. Easy Moe Bee provides a decent backdrop, but this is nothing more than filler material.

Sex According To The Prince Of Darkness – This one is strictly for the grown and sexy. After a short intro that includes a pretty funny Dolemite sample, Da Rock (no, not Dewayne Johnson) lays out a smooth sophisticated instrumental, as the self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness brags and boasts about his sexual prowess: “baby you’re bound to perspire, when I use the nipples on your breast just like a pacifier, honey please, keep your body as ease, and let me see what I can do with those 34 C’s”. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Daddy’s Home.

3 Forties And A Bottle Of Moet – This is pretty much an interlude. Kane spits a quick verse name dropping some of his people (including his brother, Little Daddy Shane, that he apparently wasn’t speaking to when this song was recorded, but he’s still pictured in the liner notes standing next to his big bro, so they must have kissed and made up at some point) over a simple drum beat.

The Way Its Goin’ Down – Filler material.

Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed – Kane gives us a seldom peek into his vulnerable side, as his woman has gotten sloppy and is leaving a ton of evidence of her unfaithfulness. This song has aged well. I didn’t care for it back in ’94, but I can appreciate it a lot more, 25 years later.

W.G.O.N.R.S. – Is an ebonic acronym for What’s Goin’ On N R Society, as the listener will quickly figure out once the hook comes in. Kane uses his self-produced (which samples and interpolates pieces of Marvin Gaye’s classic record “What’s Going On”) track to address a few societal ills in North America. I love my share of conscious rap, and Kane has given us some great ones through the years (see “Dance With The Devil”  and “Lean On Me”), but this is not one of them. The lackluster instrumental along with the annoying singing and chanting by Easy Dred and Junior P, doesn’t help matters. Side note: Bootsy Collins plays bass and Najee (remember him?) plays sax on this one.

Let Yourself Go – More filler material that finds our host obsessing over John Singleton (rip).

Don’t Do It To Yourself – The final song of the evening finds our host rhyming over his own heavily West Coast influenced production work, while his nasally flowed friend reappears as a hype man, but manages to spit enough rhymes to remind the listener just how annoying his new found flow is. Kane actually spits some hard bars on this one. And while his instrumental isn’t spectacular, he makes it sound decent. If you remove Scoob from the song it may have sounded even better.

On Daddy’s Home, Kane shows and proves that he is still in the upper echelon of emcees, displaying wit, charisma, sharp rhymes, one of the best delivers in hip-hop history and in my opinion, drops one of the best battle rap songs in his catalog (“Lyrical Gymnastics”). The problem with Daddy’s Home is the mediocre production, the large mass of filler material and most detrimental, Big Scoob. On Looks Like A Job For, Kane seemed to be regaining his footing after abandoning the true heads in a blatant attempt to win over the female audience on his previous release, Prince Of Darkness. Daddy’s Home doesn’t build on A Job For‘s momentum, but it’s also not as bad as Prince Of Darkness. It quietly…finds a home somewhere in between the two.

-Deedub

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The Legion – Theme + Echo = Krill (August 30, 1994)

The subject of today’s post is a crew that I’m sure most of you never heard of or completely forgot about. The Legion were a three man crew out of The Bronx, consisting of Cee-Low, Chucky Smash and Molecules (which is a dope rap alias if you ask me). Through their relationship with Black Sheep, the trio were able to parlay a deal with Mercury, who Black Sheep were also singed to. They would release their debut album in 1994, confusingly titled Theme + Echo = Krill.

The Legion would handle most of the production work on Krill, with some special guests producing a few tracks and dropping by to lend a lyric or two, here and there. Krill made so little noise it should have been titled “Mute” and it probably sold no more than 100 albums worldwide.

I bought a used cd copy of Krill for five bucks a few months ago (which is a great deal, considering a used copy is currently going for $55 on Amazon) at one of my frequent spots, only being familiar with the first two singles that I dug back in the day. I thought the album liner notes might shed some light on the meaning of the strange equation that is the album title, but it didn’t. So let’s get into the album and see if we can get some answers.

And hopefully, its dope.

Enter The Realm – Over rough drums and a hard horn loop, Cee-low, Molecules and Chucky Mash introduce themselves to the listeners on this short intro.

Jingle Jangle – This was the lead single from Krill, and my first introduction to The Legion. Dres (of Black Sheep, who invited Q-Tip to make a guest appearance on A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’s “La Menage” (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check)) joins the trio over this dope jazzy backdrop, and smoothly breezes over it. But its Molecules aggressive flow and amusing bars that standout on this entertaining track.

Buddah Break – This short interlude has Brucie B playing a radio DJ and shouting out The Legion and other randomness.

Legion Groove – This was the second single from Krill. C.M.E. (with co-production credit going to The Legion) lays down quite the groove for this one, as the trio try their best to keep up with it.

Back In The Days – Each of the trio spit a quick verse with distorted vocals over a bunch of staticky backdrops. Thankfully, it’s very short.

Step To The Stage – With the exception of another aggressively entertaining verse from Molecules, this shit was boring. And the mix and mastering was terrible.

Makin’ Noise – Former NBA baller and three-point specialist, Dennis “3D” Scott joins The Legion on this one. It’s a good thing Dennis didn’t quit his day job to become a rapper. He’s so bad he makes Shaq sound like Rakim. The Legion don’t fare much better, and the instrumental is trash.

Krill Ill – This instrumental is tough. Cee-Low and Chucky struggle to keep pace with it, while Molecules sounds right at home rhyming over it.

Representando – Short interlude that has a Chapito Mike propping up The Legion in Spanish over a Latin flavored instrumental.

Zootie Bang – Mista Lawnge (from Black Sheep) gets his first production credit of the evening with this one. He builds the instrumental around a few dope samples from a George & Gwen McCrae joint, and throws in a thousand other changes and breaks along the way. Overall the instrumental is decent, but The Legion fail to deliver, lyrically.

Once Upon A Time – Chucky, Cee-Low and Molecules each share their life stories, from childhood to becoming The Legion. Mista Lawnge gets credit for the jazzy backdrop, and it’s pretty dope. This one sounds better the more I listen to it.

I like The Way It’s Goin’ Down – I could take or leave this one.

Bring It – The Legion invite their buddy, Droopy Dog (Really? How corny and unoriginal can you be? Mark him as a candidate for worst moniker, please) to join them on this one. The instrumental is pretty decent, but once again, the emceeing is lackluster.

It’s Thorough – I have no idea what The Legion or Droopy Dog are saying on this track, because the sickness of the instrumental captures all of my attention every time I listen to it.

Who’s It On Part 1 – The Legion invite Showbiz & A.G. and Ralo to join them on this cipher joint, which is also produced by Showbiz. None of the emcees involved impress (but if I had to choose a winner, Showbiz turns in the best verse), but even less impressive is Showbiz’s empty backdrop.

Who’s It On Part II – As if part one wasn’t bad enough, The Legion decide to come back with a sequel to the horrid posse joint. This time the trio invite Dres, Mista Lawnge, pre-America’s Most Wanted Chi-Ali and their little homies, The Legioneers (E-Dub, C.M.E., Smiley and Droopy Dog) to the party. Dres comes off on this one, but he’s also responsible for the cheesy instrumental (with a co-production credit going to The Legion), so he loses cool points.

The Word Nigga – This interlude has a man asking random people about their feelings on the word “nigga”, setting up the next song…

New Niggas – Cee-Low, Molecules and Chucky Mash each get a verse to express their feelings on the N-word. None of them spit any thought provoking bars or make any worthwhile points, but I absolutely love the dark backdrop, even in its demo-like form.

The Truth – The Legion invites Brother Elliot, who is down with the Nation of Islam, to babble breakdown the word “nigga” over a somber instrumental. And this completes the three piece Nigga Suite.

Rest In Peace – The Legion save their best for last. The trio cooks up a moody groove with a deep bass line as they remember some of their peeps that passed away. Compared to the rest of the album, the mix on this song is incredible.

The Legion are very subpar emcees, and not even Molecules’ aggression and charisma or a slew of guest appearances, can mask that fact. On the production side, the trio put together some pretty dope instrumentals, but the mixing and mastering (with exception of the final song) are dreadful. To add insult to injury, Theme + Echo = Krill is a lengthy twenty tracks, and the twenty tracks feel never ending when listening to their limited rhyming ability, poor mixes and the handful of songs and interludes that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Plus, I still have no idea what the bullshit equation album title means!

-Deedub

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UGK – Super Tight… (August 30, 1994)

Before we start this post, shout out to Bun B for his recent act of heroism. Much respect! And rest in peace to Pimp C. 

UGK made their national debut in November of 1992 with their Jive Records debut album, Too Hard To Swallow. The album wasn’t a commercial success, but it did gain the Port Arthur, Texas based duo respect and a cult like following (read my thoughts on their debut here). In 1994 they would follow Too Hard To Swallow (bars!) with their sophomore effort, Super Tight.

Much like Too Hard To Swallow, Pimp C would handle the bulk of the production load for Super Tight. Super Tight was not a commercial success either, but it did earn the duo more fans as they continued to build on their upward momentum out of the underground.

I found a cd copy of Super Tight a few years ago at one of the used music stores I scavenger hunt at. This is my first time listening to it, so let’s see if it lives up to its name.

Return – The first joint of the evening is rolled up in some southern fried organ chords, as Pimp C and Bun B, each spit a verse talkin’ their “Trill” shit.

Underground – This one begins with a somber yet beautiful piano solo before Pimp C’s country instrumental drops and takes over. You’re not going to get much more lyrically than gangsta babble and “trill” talk from the duo, but they sound respectable over this fire backdrop.

It’s Supposed To Bubble – Bun and Pimp are poppin’ bottles and celebrating life on this one. Pimp C taps one of my favorite hip-hop loops (Pleasure’s “Thoughts Of Old Flames”) for the backdrop and David Tornkanowsky adds some piano chords to bring out its beauty even more.

I Left It Wet For You – Pimp and Bun’s first verses would lead you to believe that this song is all about your girl’s pussy (awe…what gentlemen). But their second verses stray way off that path, as Pimp is thinking about suicide while Bun’s got homicide on his mind. The duo’s rhymes are pretty nonsensical, but Pimp’s energetic backdrop is dope.

Feds In Town – Bun B goes dolo on this one, and the Feds are putting the pressure on him for his street pharmaceutical business. Pimp C provides the hook and a tasty backdrop dripping with soul, which serves as the perfect accomplish for Bun’s bars.

Pocket Full Of Stones Pt 2 – Pimp and Bun pick up where they left off at on part one: bragging about selling crack. I liked the instrumental on the O.G. version of part one (and I hated the backdrop for the remix of part one from the Menace II Society Soundtrack), but the beat on part two goes extra hard!

Front, Back & Side To Side – UGK and guest rapper, Smoke-D (who drops the funniest line of the song when he threatens to “throw a party on your girl’s pussy”) use this one to floss in their fly rides all through the streets of Port Author. David T takes us to church with scorching organ chords that accompany Pimp C’s country fried instrumental. This shit is funky, and remember: “never let hoe ass niggas riiiiide”.

Protect And Serve – Bun and Pimp go in on crooked coppers on this one, as they unleash passionate bars full of rage and revenge. “I know you got a vest so I’m aiming at your head, bloody red, I’m going to your funeral I’m spraying hoes with lead, fuck respect for the muthafuckin’ dead, cause I don’t give a fuck about a punk ass fed”. The catchy hook makes a mockery of the boys in blue’s intended purpose, as they chant “the policemen are your friends, they’re here to protect and serve” and scratch in NWA saying “Fuck The Police” underneath it. Pimp’s hard backdrop completes this strong protest against police brutality.

Stoned Junkee – UGK comes right back with another socially conscious message, as they and their guest, 3-2 each spit a verse coming from the perspective of a dope fiend. Definitely not my favorite song on the album, but I appreciate it more the more I listen to it.

Pussy Got Me Dizzy – Well, they can’t all be great. Wait…did Pimp C just say her titties are like pie?

Three Sixteens – The final song of the evening finds the PA duo and DJ DMD (who gets a co-production credit on this one) each spitting a 16 bar verse, thus the song title. None of the parties involved sound spectacular on the mic, but the instrumental is very dope.

Super Tight picks up where their debut album left off, as UGK serves up a heavy dosage of ratchetness and sprinkles of righteousness over a heapin’ helpin’ of deep fried southern hip-hop instrumentation. Neither Bun B or Pimp C, are top-tier emcees, but they definitely improved since Too Hard To Swallow, and so did Pimp C’s production work. I wouldn’t call Super Tight a classic, but I wouldn’t be mad at you if you did.

-Deedub

 

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Public Enemy – Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (August 23, 1994)

The last time we heard from PE was in 1992 with their half new material-half remixes album Greatest Misses. I thought it was almost a complete waste of wax (read my thoughts on the album here), but it was clearly just a little something to wet the mouths of PE fans and hold them over until the next full length project was ready. It took them three years, but Public Enemy would return in 1994 with their 5th full length release, cleverly (or ridiculous, depending on your point of view) titled, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age.

The new Shocklee-less Bomb Squad (although Keith would help with a few tracks) would handle most of the production work on Muse Sick, with Chuck D holding down the vocals and Flava Flav playing court jester. Although Muse Sick was relatively successful, numbers wise (it earned PE a gold plaque), it received mix reviews and left fans and critics questioning the legendary group’s relevancy; including Def Jam, as this would be their final release on the monumental label.

As Posdnuos once said “Everybody cools off from being hot, it’s about if you can handle being cold or not”.

Whole Lotta Love Goin On In The Middle Of HellMuse Sick begins with a series of vocal samples (including a snippet from the hood classic, The Mack) before a male voice (maybe Tet, since the liner notes give him credit for “background vocals”) comes in to give an almost inaudible monologue about the year 2000 and the president of The New World Order declaring war against the last attempt to unite African people: “crackers and devils who are programmed on a superiority complex aimed to make game of the righteous and turn them into niggatrons” (“niggatrons” is hi-larious!). Then the stripped down Gary G-Wiz/Carl Ryder produced instrumental drops and Chuck D spits one verse in his signature preacher’s voice, rebuking his contemporaries and spreading his conscious gospel. The songs over before you can pronounce the full song title, but this was a dope way to kick things off.

Theatrical Parts – Interlude that bleeds directly into the next song…

Give It Up – This was the lead single from Muse Sick and the only song I remember from the album. G-Wiz and Carl Ryder are credited for the backdrop, which is built around a twangy guitar loop that Chuck continues to spew his anti “niggatron” rhymes over. I didn’t like this one at all back in the day, but it’s almost passable today.

What Side You On? – Over a decent up-tempo backdrop, Chuck’s asking the listener to choose a side. My favorite parts of the song are the thumpin’ bass line and the dope drum solo near the end.

Bedlam 13:13 – Bedlam: a scene of uproar and confusion. I’m not sure what the “13:13” part is about, but whatever. Over an eerie backdrop that sounds like a demonic force clashing with an angelic choir, Chuck D talks his shit (“Give Up Gotta Live up, to my name, triple double in the rap game”) and keeps it conscious (“I’m tearin’ down the house that Jack built, cause he killed whoever he wanted, and hunted, and taxed the backs of the environment macks, who plan, in the silence of the scams”). I didn’t care much for this one the first few listens, but it definitely sounds better the more you listen to it.

Stop In The Name… – Chuck spits one quick verse in his booming vocal over a hard drum beat with dark undertones.

What Kind Of Power We Got? –  Flavor Flav gets his first solo joint of the evening and it’s a doozy. I’m sorry, I meant snoozy. Flav has never been a great emcee (or should I say rapper, because I don’t think he ever really wrote his rhymes), but at least on past PE albums he was actually entertaining (see “911 Is A Joke”, “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man, “A Letter To The New York Post”). He sounds absolutely horrid on this one, and his self-produced instrumental (with a co-credit going to Sleek, who also received a co-production credit for “What Side You On?”) is godawful.

So Whatcha Gone Do Now? – G-Wiz and C. Ryder create a laidback very unPE-like  instrumental for this one. Chuck D uses the melodic backdrop to denounce black on black crime and the worship of guns, drugs and money in the black community. Easily my favorite song on Muse Sick.

White Heaven/Black Hell – Sticking with the mellow vibes from the previous song, PE slows thing down even more with this mellow instrumental. Chuck delivers his bars in an almost nursery rhyme-like fashion, as he dedicates this one to the plight of the black man in America. I dug it.

Race Against Time – PE ramps the BPM’s and the energy level up from the previous song, as Chuck D matches its intensity with bars full of substance.

They Used To Call It Dope – Chuck spits a quick spoken word piece over very subdue drums.

Aintnuttin Buttersong – Tridash.

Live And Undrugged Pt 1 & 2 – Chuck and Sleek come together to create this rough instrumental that’s reminiscent of PE’s classic late eighties-early nineties records. Chuck rides the groove to perfection on part one and then spits a spoken word piece on the same beat for part 2. Dope.

Thin Line Between Law & Rape – On this one Chuck’s addressing the white man’s obsession with stealing shit from the black man, from his freedom (see the African Slave Trade), to his musical stylings. I love Chuck’s message, but the uninspired instrumental and Flavor Flav’s sloppily delivered hook, sink this ship very quickly.

I Ain’t Mad At All – Another very bad Flavor Flav solo joint. I’m still in shock that Keith Shocklee (hee…hee…hee) produced this embarrassingly bad instrumental.

Death Of A Carjacka -Chuck and company build the ill instrumental around an Isaac Hayes loop. I’m still trying to figure out if this is about an actual carjacking or if Chuck is speaking metaphorically. Either way, this beat bangs.

I Stand Accused – They smile in your face, all the time wanna take your place. Chuck’s addressing these backstabbers on this mid-tempo backdrop (with a co-production credit going to the underrated Easy Mo Bee). “Paybacks a crazy ass message, sent to the writers who criticize, they’re fuckin’ with a freedom fighter”. I like this one.

Godd Complexx – The third and final Flavor Flav solo joint, and probably the worst of the three.

Hitler Day – Now that’s a song title that will grab your attention immediately. Chuck goes after Columbus and his absurd claim to discovering America, because, how do you discover a land where people already live? Another strong message from Mr. D, I just wasn’t crazy about the rockish backdrop.

Harry Allen’s Interactive Super Highway Phone Call To Chuck D – All these years and I thought the Media Assassin, Harry Allen was a white dude. Thanks to Twitter, the other day I discovered he was a brother. Anyways…on this interlude Harry leaves a voicemail for Chuck discussing his theory on where the music business is headed, and he turns out to wax prophetic as a lot of the things he mentions have come to pass, which gave me goosebumps. He also mentions Q-Tip in his voicemail, so you can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Living In A Zoo (Remix) – The original version of this song was released on the CB4 Soundtrack in 1992. This remix sounds way more emptier than the o.g. mix.

Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age definitely has more to offer than PE’s previous “hold you over until our next real album is ready” release Greatest Misses. But even with it having more enjoyable songs than their previous release, it’s the first full length PE album that showed chinks in their once impenetrable armor. There are a few great production moments, but the majority is lackluster, Flavor Flav is annoying as shit, and even the head of the militant monster, Chuck D seems to have lost a step, or maybe just ran out of new ground to cover. To make matters worse, the 21 track count makes Muse Sick almost indigestible in one sitting. And if one were to sit and digest the entire album at once, he’s sure to become a… sick muse.

-Deedub

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Organized Konfusion – STRESS: The Extinction Agenda (August 16, 1994)

We first heard from the two man crew of Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poe, collectively known as Organized Konfusion, in 1991 when they dropped their self-titled debut album. Staying true to their Queens roots, the duo mixed boom-bap and jazzy loops with their abstract rhyming style, and even if they didn’t win commercially, the critics and fans loved them alike. My opinion of their debut album was different from the status quo, but whatever (if you are interested in my opinion on the album, click here). Organized Konfusion would return in 1994 with their sophomore effort STRESS: The Extinction Agenda.

Like their debut, OK would handle the bulk of the production duties on STRESS. They would also give an up and coming producer named Buckwild a shot (and I believe it was his first “professional” work) to produce three joints on the album. Like its predecessor, STRESS didn’t move a ton of units, but it did earn the twosome tons of critical acclaim (including an impressive 4.5 mics from The Source), and many deemed it a classic.

Let’s stroll down memory lane and see if STRESS is worthy of the “classic” title.

IntroSTRESS begins with a clunky instrumental that Pharoahe and Prince Poe use to spit the most abstract random shit that I’ve heard on an album Intro in a long time. It goes from Pharoahe talking about living with the “homeless and outcasts” to Poe giving the middle finger to “racist cabbies, waitresses, construction workers, bus drivers” etc. etc.  The first minute of this 2 minute Intro is Pharoahe repeating “I’m so confused”. My sentiments exactly.

Stress – This was the album’s lead single. Buckwild’s instrumental uses an epic horn loop that makes the whole thing sound colossal. Pharoahe and Poe bring it out even more with their preacher-like deliveries and confidence. This still sounds amazing.

The Extinction Agenda – I’m not crazy about OK’s instrumental, but it grows on you the more you listen to it. Pharoahe and Poe rap their abstract asses off on it, though.

Thirteen – Over a stripped down jazzy Buckwild produced instrumental (suitable for midnight marauding), Pharoahe goes dolo and rips the shit out of this track. He elegantly spits: “I’m no slave to a rhythm, I grip it, then I take its name and change its religion, then I chop the foot off the fuckin’ beat, for trying to escape the track now it’s obsolete”. Even though it gets kind of weird on the final verse when he invites his foes to suck his “dick from the back with a crazy straw”, this song was phenomenal.

Black Sunday – Organized uses the same Eugene McDaniels loop that the Gravediggaz used for “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide”, and that ATCQ used first on Peoples Instinctive (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Poe and Pharoahe use the dark and drab backdrop to talk about their humble beginnings and their struggle to get in the rap game. Lyrically, the fellas came with it, but the instrumental is boring as shit. It’s amazing how two different producers can flip the same loop and get completely different results.

Drop Bombs – Short interlude with a passable instrumental that the fellas use to yell their chant on for about a minute and half.

Bring It On – Pharoahe and Poe are in battle mode as they boast about their mic abilities and invite any would be competitors to step up and bring it. Again, these dudes can rap their asses off, but their instrumental just sounds like noise to me.

Why – Buckwild gets his third and final production credit of the evening, bringing the energy down a bit with this jazzy mid-tempo groove. Pharoahe and Poe use it to pour out their hearts, sharing how the ladies in their lives tried to play them, as they rhetorically ask why on the hook. Heavy on the soul, light on the cheese: this is how a hip-hop love song should be done.

Let’s Organize –  Q-Tip (Tribe Degrees Of Separation: check again) stops by to add some adlibs and takes care of the hook, while Prince Poe, Pharoahe Monch and O.C. take care of the bars. The three emcees fair well on the mic, but it’s OK’s bouncy backdrop dripping with good vibes and Q-Tip’s contributions that make this record great. No matter when or how many times I listen to this song it always feels good.

3-2-1 – Organized Konfusion keeps the good times rolling, as they loop up the same Blue Mitchell sample that Jazzy Jeff hooked up for FP on “Ain’t No Place Like Home” from the Home Base album, but was first used on MC Trouble’s (rip) “Big Ol’ Jazz” from the House Party 2 Soundtrack. Anyways, I love the instrumental and Pharoahe and Poe sound cool spittin’ on it. This is another one that I can put on repeat and never get tired of the soulful good vibes it emanates.

Keep It Koming – Organized puts toothpicks in their mouths and pimp strut all over this smooth groove. This is some cool hip shit. Can you dig it?

Stray Bullet – Before Nas made “I Gave You Power” and 2pac made “Me and My Girlfriend”, Organized Konfusion had “Stray Bullet”. In fine detail, Pharoahe and Poe each spit a verse coming from the perspective of a stray bullet and chronicle it’s journey into its victim. OK’s gloomy instrumental makes you feel a bit uneasy and impatiently await the lurking doom. This was dope.

Maintain – The final song of the evening finds the duo discussing the struggle of just trying to keep their heads above water in this life: “Poppa always told meeee, be all you can beeeeee…and maintain”. Rockwilder’s credited with the somber backdrop built around an ill piano loop that serves as the perfect canvas for P&P’s vulnerable rhymes. I distinctly remember shoveling the snow at my parent’s house while listening to this song in my Walkman in the winter of ’95. Time is illmatic, and this was the perfect way to end STRESS.

STRESS starts off sluggish, but heats up by the midway point and ends on fire. The sluggish start has nothing to do with Pharoahe and Poe’s rhymes, but more so their mediocre production work (the two Buckwild produced tracks are the only thing that keep the first half of STRESS from being a production snorefest). By halftime, OK finds their production footing and (along with 1 more Buckwild produced track) turns the rest of STRESS into musical bliss. I wouldn’t call STRESS a classic, but the second half is good enough to make it a solid album. Feel free to kill me in the comments, but I’m sticking to my story.

-Deedub

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Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (August 9, 1994)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this post off by saying rest in peace to Richard “Bushwick Bill” Shaw. Rest easy, black man. 

The Gravediggaz are an offshoot group consisting of Frukwan (formerly of Stetsasonic) aka The Gatekeeper, Poetic aka The Grym Reaper, Wu-Tang Clan founder and defacto leader, Rza aka The RZArector and another former member of Stetsasonic and the unofficial forth member of De La Soul (which is a part of The Native Tongue collective that, yep you guessed it, A Tribe Called Quest is also a part of (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check), Prince Paul. They are credited for creating the horrorcore sub-genre, which pretty much consists of dark production mixed with spooky death themed rhymes. The Gravediggaz would release their debut album, 6 Feet Deep in the summer of 1994.

The master of conceptual albums, Prince Paul, is responsible for the vision and most of  6 Feet Deep‘s production, as the liner notes credit him as the album’s “Overseer”. The album would receive favorable review, and even though the sells weren’t great, over the years it has developed a cult like following.

Or should I say occult.

Side note: The European release of 6 Feet Deep was cleverly titled Niggamortis and included the bonus track “Pass The Shovel”.

Just When You Thought It Was Over (Intro)6 Feet Deep opens with this super short Intro, welcoming the listener to the album.

Constant Elevation – The first song of the evening finds Grym Reaper and Gatekeeper exchanging creepy verses before Rza swoops in to wrap things up on the song’s final verse. Prince Paul builds the instrumental around a slightly zany off-kilter piano loop, which serves as the perfect canvas for the three emcee’s colorful rhymes. I’m not sure what the song title has to do with their content, but this was pretty entertaining.

Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide – This was the second single from the album, and my first introduction to the Gravediggaz. Reaper, Gatekeeper and Rza take turns mixing horrorcore verbiage (“the crazy, maniac, yo, lunatic, I circle like a shark when the fresh blood drips”) with comical punchlines (“Me being wack, is like naps on Kojak”). Prince Paul recycles the same Eugene McDaniels’ loop that ATCQ used for the interludes on Peoples Instinctive (there’s another Tribe Degrees of Separation for dat ass!) for the instrumental, which is a great loop for a horrorcore group’s backing music. The liner notes credit Kurious for “Guest Spook Vocals”. Must have been his ghost, because I definitely didn’t hear him on this track.

Detective Trip (Trippin’) – Prince Paul hooks up a jazzy backdrop with an ill dark guitar riff, while the rest of the fellas discuss their drugs of choice and the “trip” they send them on. If you don’t dig (no pun intended) this one the first time around, it will definitely grow on you after a few listens. This time around, the liner notes credit Biz Markie and MC Serch as “Guest Spook Vocalists”. Hit me in the comments if you know what this whole “Spook Vocalist” thing is about.

2 Cups Of Blood – Prince Paul lays down the dark, raw and minimal instrumental that Rza and Grym Reaper tag team and terrorize for approximately a minute and a half. This is the prelude for the next song…

Blood Brothers – Gatekeeper joins his Gravedigging brethren on this one, which is only right, since it’s all about the brotherhood. He also gets credit for the serious mid-tempo instrumental. This was dope.

360 Questions – A quick interlude that has Gravediggaz Stans asking seven random questions about the group. A few of the questions won’t make since until you listen a little further into the album, but more on that in a minute. The last question (“Who killed Tommy’s boy?”) is a jab at Tommy Boy Records, to which all four of the Gravediggaz were signed to at some point.

1-800 Suicide – This was the third and final single released from 6 Feet Deep. The Gatekeeper, Grym Reaper and Rza use Prince Paul’s equally dark, somber and soulful backdrop to give that extra push to those contemplating suicide and suggestions on how to seal the deal if you need it. Even with its comical undertones, this is some dark demented shit that would never see the light of day in today’s sensitive climate. Call me sick, but I found it entertaining (especially Rza’s verse).

Diary Of A Madman – This was the lead single from 6 Feet Deep. The production on this one is credited to Rza, RNS and Prince Paul, but it has Rza’s fingerprints all over it. The dim mid-tempo instrumental is punctuated by a spooky vocal loop of a female choir ensemble that haunts the track, beautifully. The Gravediggaz, along with Wu-Tang affiliates, Shabazz the Disciple and Killah Priest (whose name I always confuse with the O.G. Wu-Tang Clansmen, Masta Killa), each take turns to spew the most sick and vile rhymes they can think of. The answers to a few of the questions asked during the “360 Questions” interlude get answered here, which is why it would have made more sense to move this song up earlier in the album’s sequencing or place the interlude later.

Mommy, What’s A Gravedigga? – Prince Paul hooks up an ill Patrice Rushen guitar loop for the instrumental, as each of the GD’s spit no more than eight bars, and the song ends just as your head starts to get a solid bob going.

Bang Your Head – I don’t know what’s worse about this song: the generic instrumental or the annoying hook. Either way, I absolutely despise this song.

Here Comes The Gravediggaz – This is the only track on 6 Feet Deep that one of the Gravediggaz didn’t have a hand in the production (the credit goes to Mr. Sime). It makes for a decent filler song.

Graveyard Chamber – This is another one that I knew Rza produced the moment I heard the beat drop (the dusty drums and dark piano loop are a (no pun intended) dead giveaway). He, Gatekeeper and the Reaper, are joined by Dreddy Krueger (who sounds like a poor man’s Ghostface Killah and is an obvious candidate for worst Moniker), Scientific Shabazz, and making his second appearance of the evening, Killah Priest, who spits the illest line of the song when he threatens to “dig through your chest like a jar of Vaseline”. It’s not the strongest song on the album, but it’s solid and fits within the album’s dark theme.

Deathtrap – Masta Ace makes a guest appearance as he provides the intro spoken word for this one. Gatekeeper, RZA and Reaper each get a verse and share different scenarios that led random people to stumble into the grips of death. I love Prince Paul’s instrumental, which works perfectly with the crew’s content.

6 Feet Deep – Over off beat drums and a drunken piano loop, The GD’s give us one last outrageously psychotic song for the road. And the hook is super catchy.

Rest In Peace (Outro) – Over rough drums and an Albert King loop that Prince Paul puts an evil spell on, Rza, both literally and figuratively, shouts out his Gravedigga bredrin, random people, song titles from the album and other random thoughts. Fittingly, the song fades out with a vocal sample of someone singing “someday you are going to die”, driving home the album’s theme, while leaving the listener with an eerie feeling and pondering if these dudes were joking the entire album or dead serious (pun intended).

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, or an album by its cover artwork. 6 Feet Deep is definitely one of those occasions. Under Prince Paul’s directive the Gravediggaz stay true to the album’s death obsessed theme, with The Gatekeeper, Grym Reaper and Rza (and their guests) providing colorfully morbid rhymes over dark and spooky production work. With the exception of “Bang Your Head” and a minor misstep in the track sequencing (see “360 Questions”), 6 Feet Deep is a very well thought out, executed and entertaining listen. Some may take offense or be uncomfortable with the album’s dark and sometimes controversial content, but it’s all in jest. Or is it?

-Deedub

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