Ill Al Skratch – Creep Wit’ Me (August 2, 1994)

The first time I heard the name Ill Al Skratch, I immediately thought he was a deejay. It wasn’t until after seeing the video for “Where My Homiez?” that I realized Ill Al Skratch was a duo, consisting of Brooklyn native Big Ill (“Ill” being an acronym for I Lyrical Lord) and Harlem’s own, Al Skratch. This is a misunderstanding that a simple ampersand placed between Ill and Al could have cleared up, but whatever. Al started in the game as a DJ and then morphed into an emcee after a few different group situations didn’t work out. While working on his solo demo, Al met Big Ill (who was already gaining momentum in New York for a freestyle he kicked at a Big Daddy Kane party, where he apparently dissed the party’s host, and a feature in The Source‘s once highly coveted “Unsigned Hype” column (June of 1993 issue)) at a studio working on his demo as well with a producer named LG The Experience (who is the younger brother to Easy Mo Bee). Al would bless Ill’s demo and things would progress until the two formed a group and eventually inked a deal with Mercury Records, where they would release their debut album, Creep Wit’ Me in the summer of 1994.

For Creep Wit’ Me, Ill (who is Puff Daddy’s doppelganger) and Al would call on LG The Experience and Lorider to handle the album’s production work from beginning to end. The album produced a couple of well-received singles, but shockingly didn’t move enough units to earn the duo a gold plaque, which the group has openly blamed on Mercury for not giving the album the proper promotion to make it a commercial success.

But here at TimeIsIllmatic, we don’t care about commercial success. We’re only interested in if the music is good or not.

Random Factoid: Ill Al Skratch were tapped by Michael Jackson himself to spit a verse on the remix for “They Don’t Care About Us” from his HIStory album.

They Got Love For Us – A simple Intro with Ill and Al performing their first single “Where My Homiez?” live, to very receptive crowd, hence the reason they used it for the album.

Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way) – This was the lead single from Creep Wit’ Me. Big Ill and Al Skratch send this out to each other and the rest of their homeboys. LG and Lorider build the instrumental around an interpolation of Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby” and chase it with a touch of r&b; and it goes down pretty smooth. Neither Ill nor Al display great lyricism, but the catchy hook and smooth groove help qualify this as a hip-hop classic in my book.

This Is For My Homiez – Sticking with the “homiez” theme, the storyline for this one has Al free on the streets while his buddy Ill is incarcerated, leaving them both with a bad case of the lonelies. As the story goes, this was actually the demo that Ill was working on the first time he met Al, and “Where My Homiez?” is subsequently the remix for this song, which explains the similar hook, melodies and adlibs. LG and Lorider use the same formula as the o.g. version, this time using an interpolation of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Devotion” and giving it a hip-hop twist. The instrumental is a cool melodic groove, but the content is repetitive and should have at least been placed later in the album’s sequencing.

I’ll Take Her – This was the second single from Creep Wit’ Me. Ill and Al were clearly looking to win over the female fans with this one by bringing in Brian McKnight to sing the hook and adlibs, while our hosts boast about snatching up your chick if you don’t treat her right, over a heavily r&b flavored instrumental and a clever EPMD vocal sample. Speaking of Brian McKnight and snatching up the next man’s chick, my brother actually lost a girl to Mr. McKnight back in the day, but that’s a story for another day. This one may be too r&b for some of you hardcore hip-hop heads, but I liked this one back in the day and I still enjoy it 25 years later.

Chill With That – Ill and Al talk their shit over this solid mid-tempo bop. That’s all I got.

Where My Homiez? (Come Around My Way) (Dub Version) – Ill and Al wrap up the first half of Creep Wit’ Me, completing their three piece “Homiez” Suite with this dub mix of the original.

Creep Wit’ Me – The title track finds our hosts along with their guest Mike Real doing their best Onyx impersonation, and as you probably expected, it’s mad corny. To add insult to injury, the instrumental is way too clean and melodic for the fellas aggressive animated antics.

Get Dough – What would a hip-hop album be without an ode to making money (and another rapper misquoting I Timothy 6:10, this time by Al Skratch)? Our hosts invite the incredibly dope and underrated vocalist, Lisa Fischer to sprinkle some adlibs and sing the hook on this one. I would have loved to hear her sing a verse over this slick instrumental, but the song is still solid, as is.

Uptown Connection – Zoundwavez and LRC join Ill and Al on this cipher joint, and the hosts rap circles around their guests. But the true standout on this one is the dope LG/Lorider instrumental. I absolutely love the organ breaks on it.

Classic Shit (Ill’s Solo) – Ill gets the first solo joint of the evening, and he’s talkin’ big shit in a distorted vocal tone over a decent backdrop. On his final verse, Ill spits what may have inspired the late great Big Pun’s iconic “Little Italy” verse from “Twinz”: “Even if you’re large I’m breakin’ you down little, and brittle, it’s not a riddle, your shittle, be in a hospital” (your thoughts?). The instrumental is a little subdued for Ill’s aggressive rhymes, but it’s still a decent listen.

Summertime (It’s All Good) (Al’s Solo) – Al uses his solo joint to celebrate summer time in New York city, which pretty much revolves arounds the ladies. LG and Lorider attempt to capture that breezy summertime feel with the instrumental, but it comes off cheesy, and the singing on the hook borders on annoying.

I’ll Take Her (Brian’s Flow) – This a dub mix of the 0.g. mix with just Brian McKnight’s adlibs and hook. It would have dope to hear BM add a couple of verses to the track, but that didn’t happen. And we’re done.

Creep Wit’ Me feels like Ill and Al knew they had two hot singles (in “Where My Homiez?” and “I’ll Take Her”) and then added the rest of the tracks just to fill out an album (which might explain why they felt the need to also include the dub tracks for the first two singles). Neither Ill nor Al are superb lyricists (but Ill is clearly the stronger emcee of the two) and their subject matter is extremely limited, but LG and Lorider rescue what could have been a potential train wreck with some pretty solid production work. LG and Lorider create their own unique sound, blending soul breaks with hip-hop sensibilities and sprinkle a futuristic sophistication on it. Creep Wit’ Me is a decent debut, and entertaining enough to peak my interest to listen to its follow-up.

-Deedub

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MC Eiht Featuring CMW – We Come Strapped (July 19, 1994)

In 1992, Compton’s Most Wanted released their third album, Music To Driveby, which in my opinion is the group’s magnum opus (read my thoughts on the album here), at least from their nineties catalog, as I stopped following them as the last millennium came to a close. Music To Driveby would also be the last album until 2000 that the CMW collective would release an album under the CMW name. In 1993, MC Eiht was tapped to contribute a song for the Menace II Society Soundtrack as a solo artist. His song, “Streiht Up Menace” (which was produced by one of his CMW partner DJ Slip), would go on to be the second single and easily the biggest hit from the album. Riding high off the success of “Streiht Up Menace”, MC Eiht would sign a solo deal with Epic (CMW’s first three albums were released on the independent label Orpheus with distribution for the last two through Epic) and release his debut solo album (even though the title reads “MC Eiht featuring CMW”) We Come Strapped in the summer of 1994.

Gone are the usual CMW album production suspects, DJ Unknown and DJ Mike T. For We Come Strapped Eiht would rely on himself, DJ Slip, along with Ric Roc for the production, with a co-arrangement credit going to Willie Z, whose responsible for all the keyboard work on the album. Even though the previous three CMW albums were critical darlings, We Come Strapped would be the first album to earn Eiht and crew a gold plaque.

I haven’t listened to We Come Strapped in years, but if my memory serves me correct, I enjoyed the album back in the day. Let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

Niggaz That Kill (Endolude)We Come Strapped opens with a slow building dark synth instrumental and Eiht setting the tone for the album, as he spits one quick verse, warning anyone within earshot that you can get shot for fuckin’ with CMW. Eiht has one of the smoothest vocal tones in hip-hop history, but he does make one minor misstep when he says “Like a dope fiend I steal to your fuckin’ jaw, left connects than I switch to the southpaw” (for those who didn’t catch it, “southpaw” is slang for being “left-handed”). Despite that minor infraction, this is an entertaining intro that Eiht and crew cleverly subtitle “Endolude” (the first of several), paying homage to their favorite weed strand.

Def Wish III (Intro) – I’m pretty sure the soundbites in this intro are from the movie Deep Cover. Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong.

Def Wish III – MC Eiht gives us part three of his “Def Wish” series, as he continues his feud with fellow Comptonite rival, DJ Quik. Eiht lands some decent blows (I love the line about “DJ Quik in a khaki bikini”, which is a hi-larious visual), and it was pretty gangsta to hear Eiht instruct the “bitches” to sing the hook at the end of his final verse, to which they (well, “she”…the liner notes only credits a Carla Evans, so they must have just stacked her vocals to make it sound like a group of girls) quickly oblige. The instrumentation on this was pretty dope as well.

Take 2 With Me – Eiht and crew slow things way down, as our host paints a cinematic tale of a shootout with the cops that gets rather bloody. The slick instrumental sounds like the perfect theme music for a 2am drive-by.

All For The Money – This was the lead single from We Come Strapped. CMW loops up a slick sample from Tyrone Davis’ “In The Mood” (that the Beatnuts also used on Street Level‘s “Lick The Pussy”), as Eiht continues to spew out gangsta tales of crime and violence, luring the listener in with his smooth, always composed vocal that sounds like a percussion soloing over the smooth groove he, DJ Slip and Willie Z created. This one still sounds amazing 25 years later.

Compton Cyco – Eiht goes on a murder spree over this hard DJ Slip instrumental. This is what gangsta rap is supposed to sound like. Geah!

Niggaz Make The Hood Go Round – Eiht discusses the happenings in the hood as evidence to his theory that “niggas” are responsible for keeping the hood alive. Even though they don’t credit it, the instrumental definitely uses a dark interpolation of The Stylistics’ “People Make The World Go Around”, and I love the funky breakdown at the end of the song. This was dope.

Nuthin’ But High (Endolude) – Eiht takes a mid-album break to get high all over Willie Z’s smooth keys on this short but tasty interlude endolude.

We Come Strapped – CMW has always respected DJ Premier’s production work, giving him shoutouts in their album liner notes and on wax, and also using some of the same loops that he’s flipped (which is why it wasn’t a big surprise to hear Eiht and Premo team up for Eiht’s 2017 release, Which Way Iz West, with Premo serving as the executive producer and producing a portion of the album’s songs). For this title track, CMW incorporates the intro from Johnny Hammond’s “Big Sur Suite” that Premo earlier used on Daily Operation‘s “24-7/365” interlude. Eiht continues to spit his “gangsta shit” as Willie Z and DJ Slip mix the “Big Sur Suite” loop with the signature West Coast synth siren sound. Not a terrible song, but definitely one of the less potent joints on the album.

Can I Still Kill It – This is part two to CMW’s “Can I Kill It” from their second album Straight Checkn ‘Em. Over low-key laid back synth keys, Eiht is once again on a hoe stroll, looking for a chick that’s down to let him go up in her “like a Mack truck” and squeeze on yo’ ass and grab yo’ tits”. Eiht definitely sounded more entertaining the first time around (although it was pretty funny to hear him boast “pussy so big that I can’t even feel it, but fuck it, Imma still kill it”) and this instrumental doesn’t hold a flame to the slick Teddy Pendergrass loop used on part one.

Goin’ Out Like Geez – Eiht picks up where he left off at on “All For The Money”, spinning another gangsta tale over an epic synth instrumental. It would have been dope to hear a MC Eiht/Spice 1 collaborative album with the two of them spittin’ gangsta tales over epic instrumentals like this one (I know they released The Pioneers album in 2004 (which I will check out someday), but that was way after their prime years). But even without Spice 1, Eiht entertains with this one.

Nuthin’ But The Gangsta – Speaking of Spice 1, he and an unlikely guest, Redman, stop by to join MC Eiht on this one, as they celebrate the gangsta within. Compared to Eiht and Spice 1’s verses, Redman’s sticks out like a sore thumb, but that contrast along with his word play, help him steal the show, similar to what he did on EPMD’s classic cipher joint “Head Banger”. Willie Z plays the perfect keys to create the beautifully melodic backdrop for the threesome to get busy over. Well done.

Hard Times – This is a throw away joint that could of have been left off the album.

Compton Bomb – On this one, Eiht uses CMW’s music as a metaphor for weed, and everybody wants a hit: “even Caucasians, dip in they savings, to come and get the funky shit on special occasions”. Willie Z does it again, tapping out some beautiful keys, and Josh Achzinger adds some slick guitar licks to perfect the instrumentation and back up the boastful song title.

2 Tha Westside (Endolude) – Over a breezy backdrop, Eiht shouts out his people, bringing We Come Strapped to an end.

For We Come Strapped, MC Eiht and CMW dump the traditional sample-based production style that dominated their first three releases, for a more synthesized live instrumentation sound. I don’t know if they were just looking to experiment or were tired of paying out the ass for sample clearances, but whatever the reason, most of this shit sounds dope. MC Eiht doesn’t cover any new territory, delivering more gangsta tales in his signature smooth laid back vocal tone, which works perfect within the scheme of the album’s instrumentals. In my opinion, Music To Driveby is still CMW’s best work, but We Come Strapped  is another solid project in CMW’s underappreciated catalog.

-Deedub

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Coolio – It Takes A Thief (July 19, 1994)

I actually met Coolio about ten years ago chillin’ in a random Minneapolis bowling alley in the dead of winter. Strange, right? I first became familiar with Coolio’s music when the South Central L.A. born-Compton transplant was part of WC & The M.A.A.D. Circle (yes, W.C. as in a third of Westside Connection). On their 1991 debut album Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed (which I had on cassette back in the day and am actively looking for a reasonably priced CD copy), Coolio played Flava Flav to Dub-C’s Chuck D, but with better rhyming ability and more substance than the clock-wearing jester, and at times actually outshined (if not also out rhymed) his leader on the album. Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed failed commercial, which made W.C. temporarily step away from the game, but he encouraged Coolio to pursue a solo career. Coolio would do just that, recording a demo to shop around and soon would land a deal with Tommy Boy Records, where he would release his debut album It Takes A Thief in the summer of 1994.

Coolio would recruit his homie Dobbs The Wino (which is a hi-larious moniker) to produce most of the album, with help from a few others, including Coolio’s old M.A.A.D. circle bredrin, DJ Crazy Toones (rip). Thanks in large part to the hit single “Fantastic Voyage” (more on that in a bit), It Takes A Thief would earn Coolio a platinum plaque and spark his run of commercial success in the mid-nineties.

I found a copy of  It Takes A Thief a few years back in the dollar bins, and have not listened to it in its entirety until now, but I do remember some of the singles and videos from the album. Hopefully, some the hunger that drew me to Coolio in his M.A.A.D. Circle days was still present in the mist of his newly found crossover success.

Fantastic VoyageIt Takes A Thief opens with, what I’ll call, the second biggest hit in Coolio’s catalog. Dobbs The Wino loops up Lakeside’s classic of the same name, while Coolio raps about a place free of drama, worry, poverty and violence (which is a bit confusing, considering in his opening bars he instructs the homies to “grab your gat with the extra clip” to take on this voyage). The Lakeside jacking was kind of lazy (and even though the liner notes doesn’t credit it, I swear Dobbs also uses portions of Vaughan Mason & Crew’s “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”), but Coolio’s personality combined with the catchy hook, bouncy backdrop and thick bass line, make this pop hit hard to resist, no matter how hard you try.

County Line – I vaguely remember this song and video back in the day, but I had no idea it was the lead single from It Takes A Thief. Coolio uses this one to comically layout his scheme to scam the system for Government assistance at the county office, even though he’s a recognizable rapper (people are asking him for his autograph while he waits in line) with a record out. Coolio’s storyline actually has a few funny moments, but Dobbs skeleton instrumental is too empty to bring his rhymes to life.

Mama, I’m In Love Wit A Gangsta – Apparently this was the fourth and final single released from It Takes A Thief, but I’ve never heard it before today. Coolio plays an incarcerated murderer going back and fourth with his baby mama (played by LeShaun) through phone calls and letters, as they struggle to keep their family together, but LeShaun’s undying love (no pun intended) for Coolio will give her the strength she needs to wait on her locked down lover. The song opens with a loop from Roy Ayers “Mystic Voyage” (that FP & Jazzy Jeff’ used on “Just Kickin’ It” from the Code Red album, and J Rock’s “Don’t Sleep On Me” from his lone release, Streetwize), which I thought for sure would morph into another loop from the same song (like the two previous songs mentioned), but when the beat drops, Dobbs uses a dope Isley Brothers loop instead, and it’s a masterful thing of beauty.

Hand On My Nutsac – Coolio stays true to his East Coast roots with this one, as Dobbs hooks up a smooth mid-tempo bop for our host to talk his shit on. It took me a few listens to get it, but Coolio and Dobbs (on the production) do their thing on this one.

Ghetto Cartoon (Includes Cleo’s Mood) – Coolio borrows Ice Cube’s “A Gangsta’s Fairytale” blueprint, but instead of using nursey rhyme characters, he uses cartoon characters. Unfortunately, Coolio’s version isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as Cube’s, and Dobb’s instrumental sounds like Bomb Squad dud.

Smokin’ Stix – Coolio dedicates this one to the drug he affectionately calls stix, which is embalming fluid mixed with sherm. Dobbs’ builds a solid instrumental around a loop from BT Express’ “You Got It, I Want It” (it could have been super dope if he would have incorporated the break he brings in at the end of the song throughout the rest of the song, but whatever), but I wasn’t crazy about this song.

Can-O-Corn – Our host relives his humble beginnings on this one, recalling the days of his childhood when he was so poor all he had to eat was a can of corn. Dobbs loops up a portion of Rufus’ “An Everlasting Love” and Joe Blow (which is a great alias for a percussionist) adds live horns, creating the perfect instrumental for Coolio’s sad heartfelt testimony. Side note: a portion of Coolio’s verse was used in Poetic Justice, as part of Lucky’s (played by 2pac) cousin, Khalil’s demo tape. Speaking of Poetic Justice, rest in peace to John Singleton, the writer and director of that movie and several other black cinema classics.

U Know Hoo! – Coolio reunites with WC and Crazy Toones, as they rep for their crew and the west coast. Coolio and Dub-C sound decent enough, but Crazy Toones’ instrumental lacks the energy needed to make their verses pop.

It Takes A Thief – This title track takes the album down a dark road, as Coolio pivots from charismatic clown to a cold calculated criminal that will do what it takes, including kill you, to survive. Dobb’s dark and emotional backdrop serves as the perfect canvas for Coolio’s menacing rhymes that are bound to leave you feeling uneasy and wanting to invest in a gun to protect you and yours. Great song.

Bring Back Somethin Fo Da Hood – This one did nothing for me.

N Da Closet – Dobbs builds this emotional backdrop around a loop of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” that our host uses to discuss his bout with coke and crack. In a genre that does a lot of “macho man” posturing, its always refreshing to hear an emcee being honest and vulnerable about his life struggles. Well done, Coolio.

On My Way To Harlem – I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out the meaning and purpose of this one. This was clearly filler material that should have been scrapped.

Sticky Fingers – Sticking to the album’s theme, our host uses this one to boast about his gift to gaffle. Coolio’s rhymes aren’t nearly as “pearl-clutching” as his bars on “It Takes A Thief” (at one point he raps “I stole a link from my auntie and sold it to my uncle”), and Dobbs’ bouncy backdrop gives the song a much more playful feel than the title track. Side note: a portion of this song was also used in Poetic Justice as part of Lucky’s cousin, Khalil’s demo.

Thought You Knew – Dobbs loops up Malcom McLaren’s “Hobo Scratch”, creating the perfect West Coast backdrop for our host and a few of his homeboys, PS and Billy Boy, to rhyme over. Coolio easily out rhymes his sup par buddies and spits some of the hardest bars I’ve heard him spit to date: “You aint nothing but a pistol, that’s fuckin’ with a missile, I chew your ass like grizzle, til the ref blow the whistle”. It’s not a great song, but decent.

Ugly Bitches – Coolio gets playful on this one as he pokes fun at all the ugly girls he’s banged out, hi-lariously claiming “the best pussy” he ever had came from “ugly bitches” on a portion of the hook. The laughs stop during the final verse when Coolio spins a tale about his homeboy who gets an ugly chick pregnant and then kills her because the baby comes out looking like an insect (Don’t feel bad, I laughed too…the shits funny, but it ain’t funny). Dobbs (with a co-production credit going to Doug Rasheed) builds the instrumental around a loop from Delegation’s “Oh Honey”, which is also where Coolio got his inspiration for the hook. In my mind, this loop will always belong to 3 Times Dope’s “Funky Dividends”, but this song made me laugh, so I’ll give Coolio and Dobbs a pass for using it.

I Remember – The final song on It Takes A Thief finds Coolio along with Billy Boy and J-Ro from Tha Alkaholiks, reminiscing about their childhood experiences. Each party involved spits a verse, but Billy Boy (who sounds a lot like Coolio on this one) bats second and surprisingly steals the show with a strong verse detailing his life changing experience of moving from Monessen, PA to Compton, CA at the age of nine, where he had to quickly learn the law of the land in order to survive (“Compton California where the killers grow, forced to live a life that I didn’t know, wore the wrong colors cause I didn’t know the facts, caught a bitch, caught a case, caught a slug in my back…but I adapted quickly. suckas try to get me, now the fools better run cause this is drive-by Billy”). Gary “G-Luv” Herd loops up an ill Al Green sample for the instrumental, and an uncredited male vocalist belts rough heartfelt vocals on the hook, creating the perfect soulful canvas for Coolio and his buddies to paint on. Great way to end the album.

It Takes A Thief will go down in the annuals of hip-hop as the “Fantastic Voyage” album, as that single would become a big crossover hit for Coolio. But that assessment would only be made if you skim through the album instead of listening to it and fully digesting it. If you take some time with It Takes A Thief, you’ll find that Coolio is much more than the animated character that the album’s first few singles and videos painted him as. Throughout It Takes A Thief‘s 16 song track list, Coolio proves that he’s mutli-dimensional, showing vulnerability, humility, anger, fear, pain and a sense of humor. Dobbs The Wino does a pretty solid job of crafting an even blend of East and West Coast flavored instrumentals for our host to rhyme over, and while not all the production, or Coolio’s verses, work, two-third’s of It Takes A Thief‘s does, with a handful of great records and spectacular production moments mixed into the that count. It Takes A Thief is far from a classic, but it deserves more respect than being labeled the “Fantastic Voyage” album.

-Deedub

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Sir Mix-A-Lot – Chief Boot Knocka (July 19, 1994)

Sir Mix-A-Lot’s third album, Mack Daddy (read my thoughts on the album here) will forever be remembered as the “Baby Got Back” album, as that single alone would sell over 2 million units and help propel the album to platinum status. The “Baby Got Back” album is a fair assessment, as the rest of Mack Daddy was pretty booty (no pun intended). But no matter how trash Mack Daddy was as a whole, it moved units, so there was no way in hell Def American wouldn’t give it a follow-up. Mix-A-Lot would return in the summer of 1994 with his fourth release, Chief Boot Knocka.

As usual for a Mix-A-Lot album, he would handle all microphone duties and hold down the majority of the production responsibilities as well. Upon its release, Chief Boot Knocka would receive mediocre reviews, and was a commercial failure, making it the first Sir Mix-A-Lot album to not earn at least a gold plaque.

I’ve never heard Chief Boot Knocka before today, and honestly, I’m not looking forward to this experience. Especially after enduring the underwhelming Mack Daddy album.

Sleepin’ Wit My FonkChief Boot Knocka opens with a very West Coast funk instrumental that our host uses to discuss his side chick (aka his Fonk) who gets snatched from his clutches by another young player named Dexter. Not to be out done by Dexter, Mix-A-Lot retaliates by sleeping with Dexter’s main chick, which leaves Mix-A-Lot paranoid that Dexter will return the favor. I don’t know what was cheesier: Mix-A-Lot’s storyline or his instrumental. Either way, this was trash. Side note: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitar man Flea, is credited for playing live bass guitar on this one.

Let It Beaounce – Mix-A-Lot spends the length of this song trying to get the thick big booty ladies to shake their asses (and he hi-lariously refers to himself as “the Butt-man”). The song might work in a strip club after you’ve had two or three drinks and you’re watching a sexy stripper do tricks on the pole, but when you’re completely sober and driving in your car listening to it, the shit sounds terrible.

Ride – Our host continues his misogynistic theme from the previous track over a laughably bad instrumental.

Take My Stash – Mix-A-Lot takes a break away from his pimp/player themes and discusses the issues he ran into with the IRS for back taxes. Unfortunately, I can relate to his message and feel his pain (in a much lower tax bracket, of course), but thanks to the cheesy synth instrumental, this song was painful to listen to as well.

Brown Shuga – Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Our host dedicates this one to a hottie with a body who uses her ass…sets to get what she wants. Mix-A-Lot’s uninspired rhymes and the ear-grating instrumental make this one hard to digest.

What’s Real – Mix-A-Lot attempts to get semi-conscious with this one, as he recalls his childhood and being raised on the mean streets of Seattle by the local pimps and drug dealers while his mama was hard at work as a nurse. Mix-A-Lot’s rhymes actually sound decent on this one, and Michael Powers (per the liner note credits) add some dope guitar licks, giving the backdrop a nice funk groove.

Double Da Pleasure – Short skit to set up the next song…

Put ‘Em On The Glass – This was the lead single from Chief Boot Knocka. It kind of works as a companion piece to Mack Daddy’s ass appreciating hit “Baby Got Back”, as Mix-A-Lot shows he has love (or lust) for busty chicks too. Other than our host telling the ladies to “shake them titties” at the end of the song (which I found amusing), this was not even mildly entertaining.

Chief Boot Knocka – The title track finds Mix-A-Lot (with a co-production credit going to Strange) hooking up a backdrop that has a very stereotypical Native-American vibe (playing off the “Chief” in the song title, and he adds a Native-American-like chant to the hook with a vocal sample of someone saying “check out my tomahawk”), that he uses to brag about his sexual prowess and exploits. Racial undertones and all, I was still mildly entertained by the instrumental, but not enough to add this song to a playlist.

Don’t Call Me Da Da -Mix-A-Lot spins a light-hearted tale of a chick he’s slept with who’s now pregnant trying to pin the baby on him. The storyline is corny, but the Mix-A-Lot/Eugenius instrumental is embarrassingly bad.

Nasty Dog – More of the same: Uncreative misogyny mixed with overly synthesized production work.

Monsta’ Mack – See comments from “Nasty Dog”.

Just Da Pimpin’ In Me – Wait. I just read that this song was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1994 (losing to Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride”). Is that a typo? How in the world does a trash filler song like this, that wasn’t even released as a single, get a Grammy nod for Best Rap Solo Performance in a year filled with classic hip-hop singles and albums? Another egregious example of why the Grammys has no credibility when it comes to hip-hop music.

I Checks My Bank – The final song on Chief Boot Knocka finds Mix-A-Lot bragging about his money over another trash synth instrumental. At the end of the song, Mix-A-Lot takes a shot at who its safe to assume is Treach and Naughty By Nature: “Ya’ll phony ass emcees…carrying chainsaws and shit…I don’t need none of that”. I’m sure that was in response to Vinnie’s shot at him on 19 Naughty III’s “It’s On” (Never call you Sir, who gives a damn if you Mix-A-Lot? East Coast gets the props, producers rock your knot, baby ain’t got back, baby got black, that’s why you see the black baby and you respect that”). Mix-A-Lot didn’t really want it with Treach, and probably couldn’t even handle Vin Rock on the mic.

On “Nasty Dog”, Mix-A-Lot says “I ain’t tryna be the best rapper, just a big macker”, and that sums up Chief Boot Knocka in a nutshell. The album is basically fourteen tracks of Sir Mix-A-Lot chasing the commercial success he found with “Baby Got Back”, and he never comes close to recapturing that crossover magic. So the listener is left with uninspired misogynistic/pimp rhymes and a bunch of nearly unbearably cheesy synth instrumentals.

-Deedub

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House of Pain -Same As It Ever Was (June 28, 1994)

Thanks in large part to their debut massive hit first single “Jump Around”, House of Pain was able to snag a platinum plaque for their self-titled debut album. Not only did the album do well commercially, but it also received favorable reviews from the critics (read my thoughts on the album here). The Irish trio would return in 1994 with their sophomore effort, Same As It Ever Was.

For Same As It Ever Was, House of Pain would use the same (no pun intended) formula as their debut album: Production by DJ Lethal and Cypress Hill’s Deejay and producer, Muggs (with assists from a few others) and Everlast manning the mic with minimal help from Danny Boy (and one other special guest that we’ll discuss in a minute). SAIEW failed to produce a hit anywhere near as massive as “Jump Around”, but it would earn the trio a gold plaque, despite the mixed reviews received from the critics.

I missed this one back in ’94 when it came out, and honestly only recognize one of the songs on the album’s track list. A few years ago, I bought it used for a dollar,but I haven’t listened to it, until now. And after hearing Everlast steal the show with his cameo appearance on Nice & Smooth’s “Save The Children”, I’m kind of excited to see if he was able to build on that momentum.

Back From The Dead – House of Pain kicks SAIEW off with an intense thick Muggs’ bass line laid underneath rough drums (Tha Baka Boys get a co-production credit) that Everlast uses to address his haters and the rumors of his death, both figuratively and literally. Everlast’s distinct rugged vocal sounds great over Muggs dusty production work.

I’m A Swing It – Lethal hooks up a dope mid-tempo groove that Everlast uses to get “funky like the Neville Brothers” over (a statement which I found amusing and I’m sure no one else in hip-hop has ever said), while Danny Boy sneaks in a couple of mediocre bars in between E’s verses. Everlast once again mentions the rumors of his death (was “Everlast is dead” really a thing that I missed in the nineties or was dude just being paranoid on a Geto Boys type level?) and he response to DJ Quik’s diss record “Can’t Fuck Wit A Nigga” from the Menace II Society Soundtrack with a few bars at the end of the song’s final verse. His blows are light jabs at best, but at least he was brave enough to defend himself.

All That – I thought this was a weird spot to place a random instrumental interlude…but, whatever.

On Point – This one sounds like HOP may have been trying to recapture that “Jump Around” energy. Everlast adds to his list of enemies, taking a shot at Marky Mark, who was an easy target for rappers back in the nineties (probably second only to Hammer…but don’t sleep, Hammer was a G. Just ask MC Serch). All in all, this was pretty dope.

Runnin’ Up On Ya – Lethal mixes up a vintage thick Muggs-like bass line with a loop of what sounds like bagpipes, giving the instrumental an Irish touch. Unfortunately, Everlast’s rhymes are forgettable (except for the part where he says “I used to rock a skin head” which sounded kind of white supremisty) and the hook is one big contradiction.

Over There Shit – Muggs hooks up a dusty backdrop with heavy drums, a haunting bass line and an ill vocal loop from the classic Audio Two record, “Top Billin'”. Everlast cleverly manages to shoutout both Milk D and Gizmo along the way, and his rugged vocal sounds perfect over Muggs rough production work.

Word Is Bond – The legendary Diamond D stops by to provide the backdrop and spit a verse alongside Everlast. Diamond D is a very dope and underrated hip-hop producer, but this one almost put me to sleep. Yes, it was that bad.

Keep It Comin’ – In my head, this will forever be the song that Everlast used the N-word on and got away unscathed. During his second verse he quotes his dad, who was speaking about Everlast and says “He’s a bum, kick the nigga out”. Regardless of the context, there is absolutely no way a white rapper would have got a pass for using “nigga” in this current day of social media and Black Twitter (side note: Everlast would use the n-word again a few years later while playing the racist cop, Bitchkowski, on Prince Paul’s “The Men In Blue” from his conceptual album A Prince Among Thieves). They would have hung him by his balls out the window like Big Red from The Five Heartbeats. Even though I feel some type away about Everlast’s use of the N-word, you can’t front on Muggs dope backdrop.

Interlude – Decent little DJ Lethal concocted instrumental that should have been title “Drunken Jazz”.

Same As It Ever Was – This title track feels like a darker version of Cypress Hill’s “Insane In The Brain”. Everlast and Danny Boy take turns rhyming about absolutely nothing over Muggs bouncy backdrop. I’m sure frat boys were loving this one in the nineties.

It Ain’t A Crime – Everlast is definitely not the go to rapper if you’re looking for a dope story line. This one could have been left on the cutting room floor.

Where I’m From – Everlast reminisces and raps about the importance of true friendships and weeding out the shady people in your circle (I laugh every time I hear him tell his Judas “If you wanna fuck me, first you have to kiss me”). But the true star of this one is DJ Lethal and his production work. He builds this backdrop around a nasty bass line, an ill break and a beautiful horn loop (I actually thought Diamond D produced this one before reading the liner notes). Despite the nonsensical hook, this is easily my favorite song on SAIEW

Still Got A Lotta Love – Everlast comes up with a clever way to shoutout his peeps on this one. Instead of just speaking them over an instrumental, he actually raps them in couplets over an inconspicuous snare and bass line (it was cool to hear him give props to the Ultramagnetic MC’s on his final shoutout). Well done, Erik.

Who’s The Man – This was originally released on the Who’s The Man? Soundtrack in 1993 (remember that cornball comedy starring Yo! MTV Raps hosts, Dr. Dre and Ed Lover?). Lethal sticks with his formula of thick bass lines and heavy drums, while Everlast and Danny Boy continue to spew hardcore rhymes.

On Point (Lethal Dose Remix) – DJ Lethal remixes his own track with a menacing bass line, snapping drums and a mysterious horn loop, giving the song a darker vibe that the lighthearted original mix. Both mixes are dope. The remix sounds more cohesive with the rest of the album, while the original mix breaks up the album’s monotony. Choose your own adventure.

Same As It Ever Was lives up to its title in more ways than one. Like their debut album, House of Pain stays true to their Irish pride and gutter image over hard beats. And with a few exceptions along the way, they keep the same thick bass line, heavy drums, dark vibe format for the length of the album, giving it a cohesive sound, even though at times it can feel a bit redundant. Everlast is no Rakim (and Danny Boy’s limited verses doesn’t even warrant a mention), but he does a solid job navigating through Muggs and Lethal’s quality batch of dark and dusty instrumentals, even if he never matches the scene stealing magic he displayed on Nice & Smooth’s “Save The Children”. Same As It Ever Was isn’t spectacular, but its a decent album that is easy to miss or overlook, since it came out in a year packed with a slew of classics.

-Deedub

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Nice & Smooth – Jewel of the Nile (June 28, 1994)

The last time we touched base with Nice & Smooth was in 1991 with their second album Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed, which if you read my review on that album, you already know I thought it was pretty mediocre (but, if you would like to read my thoughts on its mediocrity, click here). The album did produce a couple of pretty decent sized hits, and things would only get better for the duo when they teamed up with the legendary Gang Starr to create the B side record turned classic, “DWYCK”. That would only help build the anticipation for their third full length release Jewel of The Nile in the summer of 1994.

Like their first two projects, Nice & Smooth (more so Greg Nice) would handle most of the production work with a few helping hands lent here and there. Ultimately, Jewel would do modest numbers and was met with mixed reviews. I actually loved the lead single from the album (more on that in a bit) but didn’t buy it until I found it used a few years ago at one of the Records stores I frequent, so this is my first time listening and living with the project until now.

So without further adieu, let’s do what we do…

Return Of The Hip Hop Freaks – The first song of the evening finds Greg Nice ripping the drums from Schoolly D’s “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” and laying the slick xylophone loop from KMD’s “Peach Fuzz” (that KMD actually borrowed from an O.C. Smith song) over it. The concoction turns out to be melodic banger, as he and Smooth B drop respectable verses over it.

The Sky’s The Limit – Greg Nice builds this backdrop around a loop from Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (rip). Greg Nice delivers a solid verse, keeping pace with his partner in rhyme Smooth B, who is clearly the better emcee of the two. This song might not grab you at the first listen, but the more you listen to it the better it sounds.

Let’s All Get Down – Slick Rick stops by and joins Nice & Smooth on this one, as each of the three spit a quick sixteen. Unfortunately, none of three sound that impressive on the mic, and Greg N-I’s instrumental is boring as shit.

Doin’ Our Own Thang – Nice & Smooth spew more playful random rhymes over this animated Mark Spark production (Smooth B even mentions in his verse that “this beat reminds me of Hansel and Gretel”, which made me chuckle). I wasn’t crazy about this one.

Do Whatcha Gotta – Showbiz (as in Showbiz & AG) gets his first of two co-production credits on Jewel along side Greg Nice, as they give this instrumental a Latin touch that they hope will provoke you to get up and do the Lambada (as stated in the song’s hook). It definitely didn’t make me want to do the Lambada, but it was cool.

Old To The New – This was the lead single from Jewel, and it’s easily in my top five Nice & Smooth songs of all time. Luis “Phat Kat” Vega provides the smooth and brilliant backdrop that Greg Nice freaks first before his partner Smooth B completely bodies it. Classic.

Blunts – Showbiz and Greg N-I loop up a portion of Jack Bruce’s “Born To Be Blue” (that you probably remember being used on Smif-N-Wessun’s “Bucktown”) and place some rough drums underneath it, while Nice & Smooth each spit verses about…I’m sure you can figure that out based on the song title. This wasn’t terrible, but definitely not one of Jewel‘s strongest songs.

Get Fucked Up – Well, if you’re going to have a song about getting high it’s only right that you have one dedicated to getting drunk too. Too bad the song is trash, though.

Save The Children – Everlast (from House of Pain) jumps in the cipher with our hosts. All three of the emcees deliver solid verses, but Everlast completely murders Greg Nice’s fire backdrop built around frantic drums and some sick rock guitar licks. This is easily the best verse I’ve ever heard (no pun intended) Everlast spit. I’m not sure what this song has to do with saving children, but its dope, and tied for my favorite song on Jewel (next to “Old To The New”).

Cheri – Smooth B tests out his singing chops as he attempts to belt out a song dedicated to a woman named Cheri that he apparently hasn’t seen in some time. Mark Rooney and Mark Morales (aka Prince Markie D) get the production credit for this heavily R&B seasoned backdrop, while Rooney and JoJo (from Jodeci) add background vocals. Smooth B definitely shouldn’t quit his day job. This song is complete and utter trash.

No Bones Remix (Bonus Track) – This song may have the worst hook in hip-hop history. I’ve never heard the original version of this song, and after listening to this remix, I don’t ever want to hear it. Side note: Greg Nice starts his verse off on this song shouting out the legendary late comedian/actor/dancer Nipsey Russell and rhymes his name with “do the hustle”, which made me think about the recently murdered rapper/entrepreneur/activist Nipsey Hussle, who I’d be remiss not to acknowledge. Even if you weren’t a fan of his music, you have to respect the work he was doing in his community. May he rest in peace.

Let me start with the good (whenever you hear someone preface a statement with that line, brace yourself for the upper cut that is soon to follow): I love that throughout their catalog, Nice & Smooth has never extended songs with useless verses or bridges, but consistently sticks to the format of one verse each, the hook in between the verses and then they get the hell outta Dodge (unless of course, they have a guest come through). When all the songs are short, even listening to the bad ones is easier to digest. Speaking of bad songs, Jewel of The Nile has way too many of them. Maybe “bad” isn’t the right adjective, but when six or seven songs on an eleven track album sound like filler material, the results can’t be good, and definitely doesn’t earn you the right to label it Jewel of The Nile.

-Deedub

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Da Brat – Funkdafied (June 28, 1994)

In 1992 the Atlanta-based teenage duo Kris Kross took the world by storm with their own unique swag and their monster hit single “Jump”, which helped catapult their debut album Totally Krossed Out to multi-platinum status. The mastermind behind the duo’s success was a young up and coming producer named Jermaine Dupri, who wrote and produced the entire album. The success of Totally Krossed Out opened the lane for Jermaine (who I’ll refer to as JD from this point on) to produce Kris Kross’ follow-up album and become a highly sought after writer/producer for other hip-hop and R&B acts. He would also seek out and sign more acts to his So So Def imprint, including the R&B group Xscape and a young female emcee from Chicago, and the subject of today’s post, Da Brat.

While Kris Kross came off as a cute innocent kid act, Da Brat (who looked like a kid but was twenty years old when her album dropped) came with a harder edgier gangsta persona that JD would help manufacture. With JD as her Geppetto, Pinocchio, I mean, Da Brat would release her debut album Funkdafied in the summer of ’94.

JD would handle all the production and write most of Da Brat’s rhymes on Funkdafied.
Despite the album’s mixed reviews, Funkdafied would earn Da Brat a platinum plaque, making her the first solo female rapper to accomplish this feat.

A few years ago I found a cd copy of Funkdafied at Cheapos for a buck and bought it on the strength of the title track which I liked back in the day. This is my first time listening to the album in it’s entirety…I think.

Random factoid: Da Brat is the lovely actress, Lisa Raye’s little sister.

Da Shit Ya Can’t Fuc Wit – After Da Brat pledges her allegiance to the funk, JD drops a hard backdrop that has a little “Deep Cover” feel to it, and he even sprinkles Dr. Dre’s signature synth sirens over the track. Da Brat introduces herself to the world, spitting two verses displaying her hard no-nonsense persona.

Fa All Y’all – This was Funkdafied‘s second single. JD digs back into his west coast bag of tricks and pulls out this funky instrumental for Da Brat to continue her heavily Snoop Dogg influenced flow. JD’s funk groove carries this to being a decent song.

Fire It Up – This song finds Da Brat rapping praises to marijuana (at the end of the song some random dude even pledges his allegiance to it) and talking random shit, and she sounds pretty convincing in the process. But the true star of this song is JD’s instrumental. I absolutely love his smooth backdrop, and the Boss vocal sample on the hook is a nice added touch. The content isn’t groundbreaking, but this song is pretty damn entertaining.

Celebration Time – Super short quiet storm jazz interlude that Da Brat and JD get lifted on. This bleeds into the next song…

Funkdafied – This title track was also the lead single. JD’s instrumental, as the liner notes read, “embodies a portion of “Between The Sheets””, which has to be one of the ten most sampled songs in hip-hop history. Da Brat and JD use it to pass the mic back and forth and “freak this duet just like Ashford and Simpson”. In my opinion, this song is a classic, and it has surprisingly aged well.

May Da Funk Be Wit ‘Cha – JD continues the laid back mood he set on the previous track with this smooth funked out mid-tempo groove, as Da Brat rides it almost flawlessly. Lyrically, she doesn’t cover any new ground, but she still entertains, regardless. LaTocha Scott from Xscape stops by to contribute the hook and adds a few adlibs. This isn’t my favorite song on Funkdafied, but it’s still solid.

Ain’t No Thang – Y-Tee, one half of Da Bush Babees (remember them?), joins Da Brat on this one, as he adds a little reggae flavor with his chant at the beginning of the song, setting the stage for our host to continue her relentless tough guy (or girl) shit talking. Y-Tee and Da Brat sound cool, but its clear that JD was intentionally going for a Dr. Dre feel with this instrumental, and it comes off extra cheesy.

Come And Get Some – Mac Daddy of Kris Kross (the dark skin one aka Chris Kelly…rest in peace) joins Da Brat as they swag out over JD’s funky instrumental built around a loop from Lenny Kravitz’ “Fear”. That’s all I got.

Mind Blowin’ – JD continues to bring the head noddin’ funk while our host attempts to blow your mind with her lyrics. Her rhymes aren’t mind blowin’, but they are mildly enjoyable.

Give It 2 You – JD hooks up a smooth backdrop with a dope Al Green like vocal loop sprinkled in to give the track a little touch of soul. Da Brat continues to display her polished flow, even though she trips up a bit with her lyrics (on the final verse she refers to herself as “the baddest new bitch in this hip-hop biz” and then in the very next bar calls herself an “O.G.”).  This was a great way to end Funkdafied, and is easily my favorite song on the album.

Ignorance is bliss. At face value, Funkdafied displays a confident emcee with a polished flow and a great voice bodying a batch of clean and quality JD produced instrumentals. But if you have eaten from the tree of knowledge and go beneath the surface, you’ll see JD trying to duplicate Dr. Dre’s G-funk brand of production and stealing Snoop’s flow, slang and mannerisms, only to force feed them to Da Brat to regurgitate. I think Da Brat is talented and I will eventually track down the rest of her catalog to see if she ever found her footing as a true emcee. With all that said, Funkdafied is entertaining even if it’s not authentic.

-Deedub

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