Special Ed – Revelations (June 27, 1995)

After releasing his first two albums, Youngest In Charge and Legal at 16 and 18, respectively, Special Ed made his mark on the game, then suddenly disappeared from the scene for nearly four years. Rumor has it that the Brooklyn emcee ran into some problems with his label (Profile), which caused them to put his next release, and consequently his career, on hold. Ed would remerge in ’94 as one-third of the first edition of the super group, Crooklyn Dodgers. Along with Buckshot and Masta Ace, the threesome would release the lead single and title song from the soundtrack for the Spike Lee joint Crooklyn. The song was dope, and Ed would unleash a different flow than what his fans were accustomed to hearing from him as a teen. Ed and Profile would work out their differences (well, kind of) and the following year he released his third album Revelations (Random thought: Why doesn’t anyone ever call an artists’ third album their junior effort?).

Along with himself, Ed would call on Mark Sparks (who also laced Puba with some heat on 2000 that we covered just a few posts ago), his longtime producer, Howie Tee, his deejay since the beginning of rhyme, Akshun, as well as a few others to produce Revelations. He would also lean heavily on his new style that worked so well on “Crooklyn”. Revelations received respectable reviews (tongue twister, muchers!) from the critics, but it failed to produce any successful singles and was a commercial failure. Revelations would be Ed’s last album on Profile and his last release on a major label (In 2004 he released Still Got It Made independently, but we’ll discuss that album at a later date).

I bought Revelations back in ’95 when it came out and probably haven’t listened to it since. I wasn’t crazy about it then, but let’s see (or hear) if time has been kind to the special one and his… junior release.

Lyrics – Our host kicks off Revelations with a raw Mark Sparks produced instrumental built around some dope drums and a nasty guitar loop. Ed picks up where he left off at on “Crooklyn”, showcasing his new found off beat pausing flow, and it works on this backdrop. He also shouts out ATCQ during the first verse, so that makes things even better (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check).

Neva Go Back – This was Revelations’ lead single. Howie Tee gets his only production credit of the evening and the results are not good. The instrumental sounds lost with no direction, and Ed doesn’t fare much better, as his new flow doesn’t resonate over this soundscape.

Rough 2 The Endin’ – Akshun gets his first production credit of the night, hooking up a decent semi-drowsy instrumental and a smooth hook built around a slick Big Daddy Kane vocal snippet. Ed sounds ok on this one, but it’s definitely not one of the strongest songs on the album.

Walk The Walk – Now this is more like it. Mark Sparks cooks up a dope up-tempo backdrop full of energy and spunk, while Ed drops, arguably, his strongest rhymes of the evening: “Shit is so fly that I gotta get clearance, in case I enter air space interference…and at twenty-two I’m takin’ any crew at any time, cause many rhyme, but a lemon ain’t a lime, And I don’t falsify to get by, you must be more than herbally high, to verbally reply”. Akshun, who sounds a little like DMX, livens up the hook with his amped up vocal. This was dope.

It’s Only Gettin’ Worse – Ed’s dimly lit and scarce backdrop is decent, but his flow doesn’t work on this one.

Just A Killa – On each of his two previous albums, Ed (who is half Jamaican) paid homage to his Jamaican roots with at least one reggae/dancehall inspired song. He continues that tradition with this one, as he invites Bounty Killer to join him as they take turns chanting over Ed’s tolerable instrumental. With the exception of Bob Marley, I’ve never been a big fan of reggae or dancehall; this song didn’t change my stance.

Rukus – Ed concocts a dark and raw backdrop with a dope Method Man vocal loop for the hook (I didn’t realize how many Meth loops or cameos went down in ’95) and continues to rap with his new flow. This was decent.

Freaky Flow – Akshun hooks up a breezy backdrop for Ed and he delivers adequate bars over it: “My flow is vivid, I give it two-hundred percent, that’s a hundred for me and a hundred for the rent, I know watcha meant Joe, I gotta flow too, cause they wack every show I go to, I be leavin’, I don’t be believin’ they be even, believin’ they own shit, actin’ like they own shit, butcha never will, so you better chill, or getcha grill piece, torn by the beast”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Revelations.

Won’t Be Long – Wake me up when this one is over, please.

Crazy – Ed uses this one to exercise his storytelling ability, but I must warn you, it’s not “The Mission”. There are a few amusing lines in his story (like when the thick chick tells him “I’ve seen your videos, all four of them”), but there’s really no plot, climax or point in his three verses. To add insult to injury, the instrumental is boring as shit.

Here I Go Again – Next…

Just Like Dat – Father Shaheed (from Poor Righteous Teacher) throws Ed some hard shit that he handles nicely with sharp lyricism. He invites his label mate, Nine to add some energy to the hook with his grimy vocal tone. It would have been nice to hear Nine spit a verse next to Ed’s, but regardless, this was still dope.

Everyday Iz A Gunshot – Our host invites a few friends: 40, Big I, AK and Big Moe to join him on this one, as he combines hip-hop with dancehall vibes. This was trash.

We Rule – You know how some songs start to sound better the more you listen to them? Well, that’s not the case with this one. Akshun slides Ed arguably the worst noise instrumental ever made and his flow sounds atrocious over it.

On Revelations’ opening track, “Lyrics”, Ed says “With the right flow, this shit might blow”. Well, his flow isn’t right, which is part of the reason Revelations blows, but not the way he intended it to. Don’t get it twisted, Ed has always been a sharp lyricist with great wordplay, and he’s still razor-like on most of Revelations, but his new found constipated flow doesn’t work well over most of the album’s instrumentals. Speaking of instrumentals, that’s probably the larger reason Revelations blows. Most of the album’s production ranges from trash to mediocre, so even Ed’s old more conventional flow wouldn’t have got the job done over this batch of beats. There are a few really good tracks on Revelations, but they are far and in between. The only thing that Revelations revealed to me is: just because something works once, doesn’t mean it will work all the time. Or in this case, work throughout a whole damn album.

-Deedub

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Luniz – Operation Stackola (July 4, 1995)

The Luniz (originally known as the LuniTunes) are the Oakland based rap duo made up of Yukmouth and Knumskull, and will forever be remembered for giving the world, arguably the biggest weed smoker’s anthem of all time, “I Got 5 On It”. The song was a huge hit in ’95 (making it into the top ten on the Billboard Charts) and it still pops up regularly on someone’s throwback mix everyday somewhere in this world. A few years ago, Jordan Peele resurrected the song and gave it a facelift as he used it in his horror flick, Us. While almost everybody is familiar with “I Got 5 On It”, I’m sure only a small fraction have ever listened to the Luniz debut album, Operation Stackola. 

The album’s title is just a fancy way of saying: get that money. The Luniz would call on a host of friends to produce Operation Stackola, including longtime Rap-A-Lot affiliate, N.O. Joe and the lead man of Digital Underground, Shock G. Thanks largely to the platinum selling lead single, the album would also go on to earn the duo a platinum plaque and it received positive reviews from the critics.

In Operation Stackola’s liner notes, the Luniz describe themselves as a group that represents the “Crazy comical wild side of gangsta hip-hop”, which is definitely the vibe they give off with “I Got 5 On It”. Let’s see if the rest of the album sticks to that theme, and more importantly, if the album is any good.

Intro – The Luniz open Operation Stackola with a short medley of snippets taken from a few of their songs.

Put The Lead On Ya – The Luniz sound everything but comical on this one. They invite their Oakland bredrin, Dru Down to join them, as they use the first song of the evening to let you know that they will put bullets in yo’ ass, or as Dru Drown so entertainingly puts it during his verse: “puttin’ quarter holes in fools”. Knumskull, Yukmouth and Dru all sound decent on this one, but Tone Capone’s dark and raw instrumental is the engine that makes this whip go.

I Got 5 On It – This is the smash hit record I’ve been talking about since the opening of this post, and the song that will forever define the Luniz legacy in the annuls of hip-hop. Tone Capone samples Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” for the backdrop, while the Luniz use their verses to promote unity when it comes to buying a dime bag of weed (shout out to the very underrated and forgotten Sega Genius video game, Shinobi). The Club Nouveau loop was genius, but Michael Marshall (the former lead singer of Timex Social Club that you might the group responsible for “Rumors”) gives the record a soul, belting out heartfelt notes on the hook in an attempt to convince his homie to go half on a sack with him. I don’t even smoke, but Mike is so convincing on the hook that I’d go half on a sack with him. Side note: If you have time, check out this article about Michael’s love-hate relationship with this song and the industry over the years.

Broke Hos – Shock G hooks up a laidback jazzy instrumental and borrows a portion of Gwen Guthrie’s 80’s hit “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent” for the hook, while the Luniz sound like male gold diggers, claiming they don’t mess with “broke hos” and spewing lines like “A bitch can’t help me, less that bitch wealthy” and “Me don’t want a broke ass hoochie, ’cause they coochie stink”. Very juvenile content and unimpressive lyrics, but I enjoyed Shock’s instrumentation.

Pimps, Playas & Hustlas – Our hosts make this a family affair, inviting Dru Down and Richie Rich to join them as they rap praises to all the male street personalities over a whiny somberish west coast-tinged backdrop, concocted by N.O. Joe. Joe’s instrumental grows on you after a few listens, but the Luniz and their guests underwhelming performances never changes.

Playa Hata – E-A-Ski and CMT G-funk the shit out of Bobby Caldwell’s classic “What You Won’t Do For Love”, as the Luniz discuss what I’m sure you can figure out by the song title. Some dude credited simply as Teddy in the liner notes, gives the song additional flavor as he croons some solid notes on the hook and adlibs (shout out to Tevin Campbell!). Once again, the music was way more enjoyable than the Luniz’ rhymes.

Broke Niggaz – Digital Underground affiliate, DJ Fuse (also one-half of Raw Fusion) gets his second production credit of the evening (he is also credited for the intro) and he hooks the duo up with a decent stripped down bare boned instrumental. Yuk and Knum invite Knucklehead (whose alias sounds like he could be the third member of the Luniz) and Eclipse to join in on the discussion of what type of brother makes the best criminal, adding a clever Ice Cube vocal snippet on the hook to drive their point home. This makes for an adequate album cut, I guess.

Operation Stackola – The title track features a funky mid-tempo N.O. Joe produced instrumental and the Luniz discussing all the illegal business they involved themselves in, in order to stack that cheddar…fetti…you know…money. I wasn’t crazy about this one.

5150 – The song title is slang for crazy, which is derived from the clinical code they use when an individual is deemed dangerous to themselves or others and placed in a 72 hour involuntary holding facility. The Luniz use this song to share street tales of near death experiences (during the song’s intro they actually come face to face with Shock Gesus…I see what ya’ll did there…clever) that leave them feeling…loony. Unfortunately, Yuk and Knum fail to sound convincing or entertaining on this one. I like the darkish Shock G produced backdrop, though.

900 Blame A Nigga – Shock G gets his final production credit of evening, sliding Yuk and Knum a solid mid-tempo bop that they use to comically discuss why black men seem to get blamed for every crime that goes down under the sun. This was pretty entertaining. Definitely more of what I would expect to hear from a group called the Luniz.

Yellow Brick Road – This isn’t the same road that Dorothy and Toto eased on down. The road the Luniz walk is made with bricks of coke. N.O. Joe’s southern-fried synth heavy backdrop is passable, but not good enough to give this song any replay value.

So Much Drama – Nik Nack joins the Luniz on this one, and none of the three rappers say anything memorable. During Yukmouth’s verse, I did learn that the Luniz had beef with Master P over the term “Ice cream man”, as they claim they coined the phrase. Their claim may have some merit, since our hosts and Dru Down made a song called “Ice Cream Man” that appeared on Dru Down’s ’94 release Explicit Game. The song’s content is underwhelming, but this instrumental will always be near and dear to my heart, as this song and its instrumental were on the B-side of the “I Got 5 On It” single that me and one of my guys boosted from Sam Goody to rap over back in the day. The dense bass line and funky guitar licks sound even better today than they did 25 years ago.

Plead Guilty – This one begins with an uncredited male voice (it sounds like it might be B-Legit from The Click) blaming the government for putting illegal drugs in the hood for black men to sell, kill their own with, get caught and then sent to prision to serve long sentences. DJ Darryl hooks up a funky little bop that Yuk and Knum use to spit verses about slangin’ and getting caught to which they rebuttal with “Why should I plead guilty?” on the hook. The Luniz idea was solid, but the execution was choppy. At least the stank on the instrumental will have you noddin’ your head and screwing your face.

I Got 5 On It (Reprise) – This sounds like it was the original draft of the song. The verses are longer and more profane than the earlier mix, and Michael Marshall swaps out “patna” with “nigga” and sounds a lot less enthusiastic about splitting the ten on this dime bag. There is really no reason why this song should have been included on the album.

Outro – The album ends with a couple of dudes arguing, then you here a car peel out. End scene. End album.

Based on the group’s name and the short description in the liner notes of what their about, I was expecting more light-hearted comical content from the Luniz on Operation Stackola. While they do give us a few of those moments, most of the album is laced with traditional gangsta rap themes (i.e. drugs, money, violence and bitches), and more troublesome, subpar rapping. Neither Yukmouth nor Knumskull are great lyricists and their indistinct rap voices get lost in the production to the point they sound like guests on their own album. But even less appealing than their vocal tones and technical skill is their juvenile content, or more so, their inability to make the juvenile content sound interesting. The production by committee formula that the Luniz use on Operation Stackola works, for the most part, as the host of producers cook up a solid chunk of clean west coast flavored instrumentals that you’ll be moved to groove to. It’s just too bad that the Luniz couldn’t match the production’s energy.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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Skee-Lo – I Wish (June 27, 1995)

When it comes to one hit wonders, Antoine Roundtree, better known to the world as Skee-Lo, could be the poster child. In the summer of 1995, “I Wish” became one of the biggest hits of the year, as it received heavy radio rotation and video play, eventually earning the LA based rapper a gold plaque. He would soon follow the single with his debut album with the same name and the subject of today’s post.

Skee-Lo and his partner Walter “Kandor” Kahn would handle all of the production work on I Wish. Like the single, the album would earn Skee-Lo another gold plaque less than 6 months after its release. At the 1996 Grammys the single “I Wish” was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance and the album received a nomination for Best Rap Album. I Wish received mostly positive reviews, while true hip-hop heads gave it the side eye and dismissed it as popcorn, even if they never listened to it (maybe due to Skee-Lo’s corny skips and jersey on the album cover). Skee-Lo would go on to release two more albums on independent labels, but neither would make any noise on radio or the charts.

My older brother used to play this album back in the day, so when I came across a used copy of the cd for a buck, nostalgia moved me to cop it. Plus, there were a few songs I remember liking on the album. Let’s see if I Wish should be remembered for more than its title song.

Top Of The Stairs – The first song of the evening was also the lead single from the soundtrack for the Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson movie Money Train (which also starred the beautiful and sexy Jennifer Lopez, who is aging like fine wine, with an emphasize on the fine). Skee-Lo gets his “woe is me” swag on, as he comes from the perspective of a man at the bottom looking up to the guy on top. Well, at least that’s what the hook is about; his verses are all over the place. It was also kind of funny to hear him list off all the dirt he’s done, which includes shoplifting and destruction of property, then follows that up with “that’s not all, even made crank phone calls”, as if that offence is equivalent to murder. The instrumental is built around a G-funked interpolation of Patrice Rushen’s classic “Remind Me”, which is probably why I like it so much. The funky guitar licks at the end of the song was a nice added touch.

I Wish – This title track was the one hit for this wonder that will always define his career and single handedly propelled the album to gold status. The mellow vibes in the instrumental still sound great 25 years after this anthem for losers was made.

Never Crossed My Mind – Skee spins three different stories about when your everyday norm gets interrupted by things you didn’t see coming and have no control of. The hook is senseless, but I like Skee-Lo’s concept, even if the execution wasn’t great, and the sensitive G-funk instrumental was nice.

Superman – I believe this was the last single released from I Wish. Skee-Lo and Kandor hook up an instrumental built around an interpolation of a portion of The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets” that our host uses to attempt to get into some braggadocios emcee shit. Skee-Lo poses no emanate threat to whomever you had on the thrown in ’95 (what the hell does “Emcees get faded, ’cause I’m overrated” even mean?), but I enjoyed the instrumental and the smooth jazz horn chords.

Come Back To Me – On this one Skee-Lo’s trying to get his ex back, who apparently broke up with him after he cheated on her with her sister. Good luck with that one, bruh. The semi-sorrowful instrumental matches our host’s content, and this ends up being a decent song. Side note: This song was in the movie and on the soundtrack for Big Bully, just in case anyone cares.

Waitin’ For You – This is probably the closest Skee-Lo will ever get to sounding hardcore on a track. He and Kandor build the instrumental around the frequently borrowed bass line from Fred Wesley and The JB’s “More Peas”, as he commences to talk his shit, or should I say “stuff”, since our host frowns upon cursing (in the first verse he says “Cause cuss words are hush words, so shh, I’m disgusted”). It’s safe to say that Skee-Lo’s bars left no one shaking in their boots.

Holdin’ On – No. I think I’ll let go and move on to the next song.

You Ain’t Down – Our host gets back in his “woe is me” bag, as he talks about the homies and women who did him wrong in the past. Skee-Lo sounds decent on this one and I like the laidback Kool & The Gang “Summer Madness” inspired instrumental, and the female vocalist on the hook adds some extra flavor to the song.

Crenshaw – Skee-Lo invites his buddies Funke & Trend to join him on this one, as the trio celebrate kickin’ it on Los Angeles’ Crenshaw Blvd on Sunday nights. Nothing to see here, folks.

This Is How It Sounds – Skee-Lo takes an interpolated loop from The Isley Brothers “For The Love Of You” and jazzes it up with horn chords. He says absolutely nothing on his verses, but you can’t really go wrong with this classic sample.

The Burger Song – Skee-Lo must have been trying to get some McDonald’s branding with this one, as he creates a strong contender for worst hook in the history of hip-hop. The instrumental was kind of dope, but everything else about this song is ass.

I Wish (Bonus “Street” Mix) – Skee and Kandor synth the shit out of one of the beautiful melodies from DeBarge’s “All This Love”, and it sounds terrible and feels blasphemist. Ain’t nothing street about this mix. I’ll take the original, please.

On I Wish, Skee-Lo comes off as the squeaky clean G-rated rapper who’s not afraid to show his vulnerable side and just likes to make fun records. On the production side, he and his partner, Kandor succeed, for the most part, as they cook up a batch of polished West Coast flavored instrumentals and sprinkle a little G-funk on classic R&B loops, turning them into enjoyable soundscapes. At a time when hip-hop was flooded with gangster posturing, Skee-Lo’s unguarded everyday Joe persona is admirable, but you still have to be nice with the rhymes to sell it (or do you?). It’s not that Skee-Lo is a terrible emcee, he’s just not that good, and he writes some really bad hooks. So, if you’re ear buds are craving crispy clean breezy synth heavy hip-hop beats with a rapper who’s not that talented, but his rhymes will allow you to listen to the album when your kids are around, then I Wish is the album for you. For all your other hip-hop needs, look elsewhere.

-Deedub

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Grand Puba – 2000 (June 20, 1995)

After Brand Nubian’s debut album, One For All, Grand Puba left the group but stayed on the same label (Elektra) to pursue a solo career, which was pretty much inevitably. Puba, with his top-notch flow and polished delivery, was easily the breakout star of the group. He would release his debut solo album, Reel To Reel in ’92, which didn’t do great numbers wise, but did get love and respect from the critics and fans, alike. He would return in the summer of ’95 with his sophomore solo effort, 2000.

On Reel To Reel, Puba handled the bulk of the production, but for 2000 he would relinquish those duties, letting Mark Sparks, Minnesota and a few others take care of those responsibilities so he could focus solely on his rhymes. 2000 would produce two singles, but much like its predecessor, it didn’t do well commercially. Unlike Reel, 2ooo wasn’t unanimously embraced by the streets and it received mixed reviews from the critics. I haven’t listened to 2000 in a long time, but I remember diggin’ it back in the day. But I may be a bit bias, considering I was a Puba Stan and all.

In ’95, 2000 was Puba’s clever way of saying he was a few years ahead of the game and his contemporaries, which is now mind boggling, considering the year 2000 was 20 years ago. Time is truly, illmatic.

Very Special – Puba kicks off 2000 with a soft and mellow Mark Sparks produced instrumental, as he warms up for the evening, giving us a taste of his wittiness and effortlessly slick flow.

I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are) – This was the lead single from 2000 (it was also included on the Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 video game soundtrack). Mark Sparks steps it up a bit with this one, as he concocts a creamy smooth backdrop and adds splashes of ruggedness over it. Puba uses the sonic beauty to bless us with more of his charisma and nearly flawless flow.

A Little Of This – Kid (from Kid ‘N Play) joins Puba on this one, singing the hook with our host and adds a few adlibs. Puba spills some of my favorite Puba rhymes on this one: “I’ve gotta be one of the baddest brothers on the planet, I’m baggin’ honeys and they all got bodies just like Janet, I play it safe never takin’ chicken heads for granted, I’m superman and Lois types my rhymes at Daily Planet, I got more promise than Thomas who makes English muffins, I do more stickin’ in chicken than Stove Top Stuffing, no doubt about it hun, I hit from here to China, when I drop the D-minor, watch me soggy your vagina”. Mark Sparks’ instrumental is dripping with feel good vibes and makes for good morning music to get your day off to a great start.

Keep On – I never really cared for this one back in the day and I still don’t. Puba does his thing on the mic, but Chris “Shuga” Liggio’s spacey loop is kind of dull and brings down the song’s momentum.

Back Stabbers – Our host invites vocalist, Michelle Valdes Valentin to join him on this one, as they commence to freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson, kind of. Puba and Michelle play a couple going through some trying times in their relationship, when Michelle lets Puba know that his best friend isn’t who he thinks he is. The storyline was okay, even though the end was anti-climactic. It feels like Puba was trying to recapture the magic he and Mary J Blige created with “What’s The 411?” and Reel To Reel‘s “Check It Out”, but Miss Valentin is not Mary and this song isn’t nearly as memorable as those two. Mark Sparks’ airy mid-tempo backdrop was enjoyable, though.

2000 – Minnesota gets his first production credit of the evening as he slides Puba a dope instrumental to destroy for the album’s title track: “I’m the Scooby with the Doo, I like my philly with a brew, all you niggas talkin’ shit about Puba – fuck you! You know what you can do? You can lick the twins, when I pull them outta skins, and I put ’em your face, you can tell me how it taste”. Definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.

Amazing – Minnesota comes right back with another dope instrumental, as he samples The Brothers Johnson’s “Tomorrow” and turns it into a soulful groove for Puba to continue to get busy on: “My beats kick you in the head like a Timberland, me and my crew stay tight like the X-Men, I gets mean, and then I turn into the Wolverine, and then I grab the mic and blow the whole spot to smithereens, I gets down for the money honey, I got the style that’s real, that’s why brothers chew my shit up like gummy bears, it’s the New York shocker, representin’ like a Knickerbocker, watch me get it cookin’ like Betty Crocker, I’ll make you choke like I’m indo smoke, cause I’m downright nasty like Diet Coke”. Minnesota and Puba make sure this one lives up to the song title.

Don’t Waste My Time – Alamo lays down a sophisticatedly sexy backdrop that Puba uses to issue a warning about messing with scheming groupies: “Honey set them traps, that’s why Tyson was where he was at, they want you for your name and fame, quick to get butt naked, when you play them out, they run and said you tried to take it”. It was nice to hear Puba temporarily get away from freestyle rhymes and focus on a topic, and the music behind him fits his content, perfectly. This one has aged well.

Play It Cool – Puba reunites with one of his Brand Nubian bredrin, Sadat X on this one. Both of the New Rochelle emcees spit a verse over Minnesota’s funky piano loop, vibrating bass line and rough drums. Like he did on One For All, Puba raps circles around his old friend, but it was still nice to hear them back together. I wonder how Lord Jamar would have fared over this up-tempo beat. This one sounds way better than I remember it back in the day.

Playin The Game – The song feels incomplete and like it was thrown on the album just to fill space. I kind of like the Barry White loop, though.

Change Gonna Come – Puba wraps up 2000 by giving the listener some gems and food for thought to chew on: “Some think respect is an uzi or tech, but when they steal your intellect, it’s like a rope around your neck…that’s the 2000 tricknowledge, that’s the shit you won’t learn in college”. Dante Ross provides our host with a melodic backdrop dripping with serious vibes, making for the perfect canvas for Puba to paint with his conscious brush. And remember: “A gat don’t make you a man, cause a man made the gat”.

After revisiting 2000 these past few weeks, I can partial understand why the reviews for 2000 were mixed. Grand Puba picks up where he left off at on Reel To Reel, delivering witty punchlines and sharp word play with his effortless refined flow that is severely underrated, by the way. But like I’ve mentioned in the past, Puba has never been super strong on the conceptual side, so a Puba album can easily start to sound like one long freestyle. The production on 2000 is also a lot more polished than the dusty boom-bap found on Reel, which I enjoyed for the most part, but I know a lot of east coast hip-hop heads don’t appreciate. 2000 is far from a classic, but in my opinion, it’s a solid sophomore effort from a great emcee, who at one point I had in my top ten.

-Deedub

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Miilkbone – Da’ Miilkrate (June 20, 1995)

Thanks to the commercial success of groups like The Beasties Boys, Vanilla Ice and 3rd Bass, by the mid-nineties, major labels were ready and very willing to find and sign the next hot white rapper to a deal. Insert New Jersey native Thomas Wlodarczyk, better known as Miilkbone, into the equation.

Loosely linked to Naughty By Nature’s Illtown squad, Miilkbone would get a deal with  Capitol Records (which was also the label home to the Beastie Boys at the time), where he would release his debut album, Da’ Miilkrate. Miilkbone would call on newcomers, Mufi and Nick Wiz to produce the bulk of the album, with Kay Gee and a few others contributing a track here and there. The album produced two singles that made little noise and the album was a commercial failure that received average to poor reviews from the critics. Da’ Miilkcrate would be the only album Miilkbone would release on Capitol, but he would go on to release two independent albums, do a short stint with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, and make a dis record aimed at Eminem (see “Dear Slim”).

I’ve never listened to Da’ Miilkrate before this post. I found a used copy of the cd a few years ago and bought it on the strength of the first single that I liked back in the day.

By the way, the cover artwork looks horrible. Hopefully the album doesn’t sound as bad.

No GimmicksDa’ Miilkrate opens with a female asking Miilkbone questions about his parents opinion on him choosing to pursue a career in rap and how he feels about being viewed as a “wannabe” by most of the world. Miilk answers her questions in a roundabout way with very wordy responses.

Ghettobiz – Over a somberish mid-tempo instrumental (produced by Nick-Wiz), Miilk embraces and big ups the griminess of the hood. He also manages to slide in “nigga” a couple of times during his verses. I’m shocked no one called him out on this back in the day. Maybe that’s because no one ever listened to the album, including his own crew. Regardless, it’s not a bad song, but it’s a bit too low on energy for an opening track.

Keep It Real – This was the lead single from Da’ Miilkrate, and probably the millionth song made in the mid-nineties with this cliché song title. Mufi builds the dope backdrop around an ill piano loop and an AZ vocal snippet that our host uses to display his adequate rhyming ability. This one has held up well over the years.

Mindgamez – Nick Wiz hooks up a dark, hard and subdued instrumental with a deep bass line and adds a catchy Buckshot vocal snippet for the hook. Miilk sounds decent on this one, even though he does get a little slothful with the bars that lead into each hook: “My clique is swayze, because I’m gettin’ lazy. What the hell does that even mean? I like the instrumental, but it would have been nice to hear Miilk challenge himself and replace the random freestyle rhymes with something more conceptual that fits the song title and the sick Buckshot sample.

Traffic Jam – Interlude that sets up the next song…

Move Wit’ Da’ Groove – Mufi and someone named Twig are credited for this slightly cheesy synth-heavy backdrop that our host uses to conger up party vibes with light-hearted rhymes. The instrumental does sound a bit generic, but I like its breezy vibes. It makes for great summertime cookout music.

How Ya Like It? – Nick Wiz hooks up a milky smooth (no pun intended) instrumental for Miilk to spit more freestyle rhymes over. He also spits what may be the worst punchline in the history of hip-hop: “I’m buckin’ shots with rocks so lay low, I fucked your bitch in a barn and now she’s really a hey (hay) ho!!!!”. It sounds worse than it reads. The Method Man sample on the hook was a nice added touch to the song.

Freestyle – Over an intense backdrop, Miilkbone and friends warm up for the next song…

Set It Off – Miilkbone invites Nitty, Kandi Kain (yep, the same one from Naughty By Nature’s “Connections”) and Trip to join him on this cipher joint. Kay Gee lays a raw up-tempo instrumental that sounds even better when the sun goes down, and much like she did on “Connections”, Kandi Kain steals the show. I would have loved to hear a full album from her.

Where’z Da’ Party At? – Yep. Another party themed joint. Apparently, this was also the second single from Da’ Miilkrate. Kay Gee gets his second and final production credit of the evening, as he slides our host a feel good instrumental built around a loop from Kool & The Gang’s “Too Hot”. It makes for decent filler material.

Murder Verbs – Miilk invites a few of his buddies to join him on this cipher joint. The liners notes don’t credit any of Miilk’s guests (one of them sound like one of the dudes from the Cruddy Clique), but no worries, no one says anything worthwhile. And Mufi’s instrumental is about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Fast Cash – Interlude to set up the next song…

Kids On The Ave – Miilk uses Mufi’s cinematic-tinged backdrop to share a tale about a struggling rapper who becomes a street pharmacist after being convinced by his drug dealing homeboy to enter the field. And boy does that come back to bite him. Miilk’s storyline was decent, and it was nice to hear him come with a concept and not just bar us to death.

Check Me Out – Mufi and Butch Whip hook up a melodic and mellow instrumental that Miilk uses to continue spewing random freestyle rhymes, including another ridiculously corny punchline: “Your girl rides my dick and that’s the only time I fuck up”. He also revisits the n-word, but this time delivers it as “niggies”. Sm muthafuckin’ h.

Bamma Fam – I’m not sure what this interlude is about, but, whatever.

Ketchrek – Ah, yet another song title named after a cliché mid-nineties hip-hop term, only spelled differently. I don’t know if I’d say Miilk caught wreck on this one, but he does a decent job with it. The Mufi and Butch Whip concocted instrumental is the true star on this one.

It Ain’t The Same – Decent filler material.

2 All Y’all – Mufi’s gives Miilk an emotional instrumental that he uses to rap his shout outs over. I like the instrumental, but it was kind of strange to hear our host shout out his peeps over the somber music.

Hidden Track – Miilkbone tacks on a remix to “Keep It Real” for the album’s official finale. They recycle the AZ vocal snippet from the original, but substitute the piano loop with a harp-like loop and hard-stripped down drums. Miilkbone spits all new verses and in my opinion, delivers his strongest bars of the evening. This was dope.

Miilkbone has a decent flow, but it gets a bit stunted on Da’ Miilkrate due to his poor enunciation and some outrageously corny punchline. On the other hand, our Caucasian friend has no problem enunciating “niggas” and “niggies”, as both words roll off his tongue with ease and come across loud and clear. Overall, the production on Da’ Miilkrate is a solid batch of boom-bap that Miilk uses to display his competent rhyming ability. But with no solid song concepts (with the exception of “Kids On The Ave”), Da’ Miilkrate starts to sound like one long monotonous freestyle. Da’ Miilkrate’s a decent album, but I still feel some type away about him saying “nigga”.

-Deedub

 

 

 

 

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The BUMs (Brothas Unda Madness) – Lyfe’N’Tyme (June 13, 1995)

Through the years, like all genres, hip-hop has seen its fair share of one and done’s: groups that came on the scene, released one album and disappeared into the darkest deepest blackest hole never to be heard from again. There are various reasons for these disappearing acts: death, bad contracts, terrible debut albums, quality projects with disappointing commercial results, or the artist simply gets tired of dealing with the industry politics and walks away from the game forever. Today, we add The BUMs to this tragic list.

The BUMs, which is an acronym for Brothas Under Madness, were the Oakland, California based duo, Evocalist and D. Wyze. They were also a part of Sway & King Tech’s All City crew, who played a large part in The BUMs getting their foot in the door. The BUMs would get their first National exposure with a song included on the gold selling Street Fighter Soundtrack (an album that I own but completely forgot The BUMs had a song on it) and nearly six months later they would release their debut album Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme on Priority Records.

The BUMs would bring on the unestablished Joe Quixx to produce the bulk of Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme, with Sway and King Tech getting executive producer credits along with themselves (hopefully, Sway will get inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame this week, as he’s more than deserving). The album produced one single that made minimal noise and needless to say, it was a commercial disappointment.

I remember loving Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme back in ’95, but it’s been several years since I’ve listened to it. Let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

Brothas Unda MadnessLyfe ‘N’ Tyme starts with a smooth melodic instrumental and our hosts repeating the group’s name, over, and over, and over, and over…

Non-Stoppin’ The Groove – Joe Quixx (whom I’ll refer to simply as JQ from here on) concocts a laidback jazzy backdrop with a sick mumbling bass line that Evocalist and D. Wyze use to showcase their solid rhyming skills over. Evocalist, who’s vocal tone and flow remind me a little of AZ, received The Source’s Hip-Hop Quotable column for his verse on this one. From the jump it’s clear that E’s the stronger emcee of the two.

I Don’t Know – A short interlude (or as the liner notes call it, “insert”) that must be an inside joke amongst the BUM’s crew.

Wreck Your Ears (Can Do) – JQ picks up the pace a bit from the previous song with this soulful groove. D. Wyze turns in a decent performance, but Evocalist wrecks your ears, the mic and the shit out of the instrumental: “Now, I gets busy underground like gooks during Vietnam, no selling out because my mom didn’t raise a Tom, Evol’s my name, I flex mad styles, I’m known for gettin’ nastier than maggots on a dead cow, at many clouds rockin’ crowds from here to China, I gets looser than the lips on a prostitute’s vagina, so sleep on my skills, and sleep in grills they use for traction, cause I put my thaaaang in action, awakening crews in a rude fashion, on they ass like Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant”. This was really dope.

Cup Of Joes – Short, sweet and funky interlude.

Take A Look Around – Fredwreck Nassar builds on the jazzy mood that JQ’s created on Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme thus far, as he slides The BUMs another great soundscape that the duo use to share about their upbringing and other random personal shit. Props to Evocalist, as he may be the only rapper to ever use “phalanges” in a rhyme (though I’m sure if I comb through every one of Canibus’ rhymes, I’ll find the word there too). With the exception of the nonsensical hook, everything about this song was dope.

6 Figures And Up – JQ keeps the good times coming, as he provides another funky groove that makes me want to get my pimp stroll on every time I hear it. E and D use it to discuss the amount of income they deem necessary to sustain their lifestyles, or as Evocalist simply puts it: “Not two, not three, not four, not five, six figures and up is what I need to survive”. This is a great record that can also be used to help motivate you to achieve financial success.

Flex Uv A Finga – The BUMs use this one to discuss the drama and violence that goes down in the Oakland streets. The content is decent, but JQ’s instrumental is a little dry.

Diggin’ In The Crate – This interlude uses a snippet from Sway & Tech’s The Wake Up Show where they premiered one of The BUM’s songs. This bleeds directly into the next song…

Let The Music Take Your Mind – JQ builds this serene and soulful backdrop around an ill Blackbyrds loop that our hosts use to talk random shit and in passing, try to convince the listener to do what the title suggest. JQ’s instrumental is brilliant, and must be a slice of what heaven feels like.

Suck My Dick – This interlude starts with a smooth Jaggerz loop that is quickly interrupted by someone lighting a blunt and dedicating the rest of the interlude to “all you bullshit ass A&Rs and you fucked up labels”. Then a stripped-down drum beat and a twisted bass line come in, accompanied by an ill Fat Joe vocal snippet, instructing those A&Rs and labels to do exactly what the title suggest. This was pretty cute.

Elevation (Free My Mind) – This was the lead single (and I believe the only single) from Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme. JQ loops up Teddy Pendergrass’ classic “Close The Door” as our hosts discuss music industry politics. This is a brilliant record that sounds even better now than when it was first released.

West Coast Smack – Evocalist and D. Wyze represent for the West Coast on this one, with E laying down the stronger back hand than his partner in rhyme. I wasn’t crazy about the Baka Boyz zany instrumental, but the Souls Of Mischief and D-Nice vocal loops were pretty dope, even if D-Nice’s “boom, boom, bap, boom, bam!” is more of knock out combination than a smack.

Harry Joenick – Yet another inside joke interlude.

Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme – For the title track our hosts are joined by their Oakland neighbor, Mystic (even though the liner notes credit her on the next song for her verse on this one), as each party spits a conscious verse over a beautiful JQ backdrop. Evocalist spits what may be his masterwork, dropping precious gems and jewels throughout: “Fakin’ the style, is a flagrant foul, lets chill for a while, but in the end it comes back someday someway somehow, playin’ both sides like a double edge knife, will get you squashed like a bug on the windshield of life, this goes out to all the 70’s kids, who didn’t die from SIDS, only to spend a lifetime doing bids”. This is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.

For My Brothas – JQ hooks up some ole cool shit with a bass line so thick it would make Serena Williams blush. The BUMs deliver solid verses, but JQ’s dope backdrop is the true star of this one.

Wake Up – A short interlude that I guess was included to set up the next song…

Can You Do Without? – King Tech gets his only production credit of the evening (excluding his executive producer credit for the album) with this one, as he slides the BUMs an animated backdrop with a jazzy swing twist. The full question being posed is: If there was no hip-hop could you do without? I mean, I guess I’d have to. But I could definitely do without this song.

Who Gives You The Right – The final track of the evening features Evocalist sharing a spoken word poem that asks his oppressors (even though the question mark is omitted in the song title) who gives them the right to oppress. E’s heartfelt words sound great over the soul stirring instrumentation. And that concludes Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme.

On Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme The BUMs consistently represent for Oakland, show Sway and Tech respect for putting them on, and D.Wyze makes sure the listening audience is fully aware that he’s also a barber. More importantly, D. Wyze and his more polished rhyming partner, Evocalist spit solid bars and balance substance with good old fashion braggadocio shit talking. Joe Quixx is just important to Lyfe ‘N’ Tyme as Evocalist and D. Wyze, as his superb batch of mid-tempo instrumentals built around well-executed jazz and soul loops is the heart and soul of the album. Matter of fact, the only mediocre moments on the album occur (with the exception of “Flex Uv A Finga”) when JQ’s not on the boards (I’m scratching my head to why he didn’t get more work after this project). Lyfe ‘N’ Time is a great debut album from a group that I would have loved to hear more music from.

I wonder why they vanished so quickly from the game. It’s not like they didn’t have the talent. Maybe Evocalist was waxing prophetic on “Elevation (Free My Mind)” when he said: “Since I don’t brainwash minds, with talkin’ nines, and how I shoot ya, it seems no multi-million contract is in my future”.

-Deedub

 

 

 

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Naughty By Nature – Poverty’s Paradise (May 30, 1995)

After a forgettable debut album, The New Style changed their name to Naughty By Nature and released back to back platinum selling albums in Naughty By Nature and 19 Naughty III (you can read my thoughts on both here and here), that were both damn near classics. By 1995, Naughty By Nature were bonafide rap stars, thanks to their ability to craft crossover hits and make dope albums that both the critics and the streets respected. They would return in ’95 going for the trifecta with their fourth release, Poverty’s Paradise.

Like the previous Naughty By Nature albums, Kay Gee would handle most of the production on Poverty’s Paradise with a little help from a few outside parties. The album received positive reviews, but would be their first album under the Naughty By Nature name to not earn a platinum plaque. It did earn a gold plaque and would win the trio the first ever Grammy for Best Rap Album in 1996.

But forget about the accolades. How has Poverty’s Paradise held up over the past 25 years?

Intro Skit – The album opens with Naughty performing “Hip Hop Hooray” live…

Poverty’s Paradise – Then our hosts follow an intro with another intro that has Vinnie introducing the listeners to Poverty’s Paradise. What the hell does “scuffin’ those knees” mean? I’m sure it doesn’t mean what it sounds like. And why didn’t they just combine the opening intro with this second opening intro so they could have one opening intro? Well, at least the soulful instrumental playing in the background was enjoyable.

Clap Yo Hands – The first real song of the evening comes with a feel good bass line, clapping drums and a warm horn loop. Treach handles the instrumental with ease (I always laugh when I hear him say “hoochies, pop their coochies, and slap their hips”), while his partner in rhyme, Vin Rock tries his best to keep pace with it. I had no idea this was the lead single from Poverty’s Paradise. I actually watched the video for it for the first time while working on this post. This was a nice appetizer before the main course.

City Of Ci-Lo – Minnesota gets his first of two production credits on Poverty’s Paradise, as he, per the liner notes, “equates” a dark and drowsy backdrop for Treach who uses it to compares life in the hood to a game of cee-lo (or ci-lo). Not my favorite song on the album, but it’s decent.

Hang Out And Hustle – Naughty makes this a family affair, as they invites a few crew members from Road Dawgs and Cruddy Click and lyrically hang out and hustle together. Everyone turns in a solid verse (including Vinnie!), but of course Treach reigns supreme with his polished flow and confident delivery. Kay Gee samples Charles Sherrell’s record with the same name for the backdrop and hook (he also adds a slick vocal snippet from Extra P into the hook) and turns it into a funky bop for the boys to slang to.

It’s Workin’ – Sticking with the cipher theme, this time around Treach is joined by the Rotttin Razkals, as they pass the mic around like a blunt over a West Coast synthy Kay Gee produced instrumental. This was a decent track with not much replay value.

Holdin’ Fort – I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s not terrible.

Chain Remains – Treach takes a minute (or four and half) to explain why he wears the chain and lock around his neck. Someone named Brice lays down a smooth mid-tempo instrumental with west coast sensibilities that Treach uses to spit some of his most heartfelt rhymes, as he points out the parallels of the African slave trade and the prisons in America today that keep brothers in bondage at a high percentage: “Learn the ability to find their goals, locked in a facility where time is froze, God knows the heart hurts to see no sky, just dirt, they give a black man a cell before they give a man work, so we get into this black this black cat syndrome, grow older like there’s no heart and no soul ingrown, bars and cement instead of help for our people, jails aint nothin’ but the slave day sequel”. The addition of real inmates giving their name, prison number and release date in between verses drives home Treach’s message even more. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Poverty’s Paradise.

Feel Me Flow – This was the third and final single from Poverty’s Paradise. Kay Gee hooks up a feel good groove with a bouncy bass line that Treach rides to perfection with his flawless fl0w. Naughty doesn’t get enough props for their ability to create hip-hop classics with a pop appeal, like this one.

Craziest – This was the second single from the album. I’ve never been crazy (no pun intended) about the instrumental, but Treach manages to make it sound better than it is with his hard rhymes and superior vocal tone. After disappearing for the last four songs, Vinnie returns to squeeze in a forgettable verse in between Treach’s. I literally lol every time I hear Treach threaten to go in Jermaine Dupri’s pockets, claiming that he owes him “loot for that “Jump” shit” (referring to Kriss Kross’ smash hit that he allegedly co-wrote but was never compensated for). Side note: The smooth instrumental on the Crazy -C produced remix (how ironic is that?) sounds a lot better than this version.

Radio Skit – Short skit that sets up the next song…

Sunshine – Treach picks up where he left off at on 19 Naughty III’s “Written On Ya Kitten”, as he salivates and celebrates the kitty cat: “Are those bullets in your bra or are your nipples glad to see me? Been waiting since I’m three, now I’m finally seeing a genie, open that kitty, pretty let me write it in graffiti”, your name Sunshine, how dandy been known by the glow in your panties, sweety”. You can’t go wrong using Roy Ayers’ classic record “Everybody Love The Sunshine” for the backdrop, and Treach rides the mellow vibes, beautifully. And they get extra credit for sampling one of my favorite movies (Boomerang) at the end of the song. This is definitely one of my favs from Poverty’s Paradise.

Webber Skit – This skit always made me laugh and it still does. Was anybody really waiting with great anticipation for a Chris Webber verse or album? TFOH!!!

Respect Due – Wait? Did Vinnie just recycle part of his verse from “Craziest”? Dude, you only rapped on four songs up to this point and you’re already reusing shit? Anyways…this one was middle of the road for me.

World Go Round – Minnesota returns and blesses Treach with this creamy soundscape and a soulful vocal sample from a youthful Michael Jackson. Treach uses the brilliant backdrop to get introspective as he ponders life and the world we live in:” Get high to tell ya lows, that’s how it’s done on the bricks, we all mad at the world when the world aint done shit, just the people in it and the scavengers who function, who destroy the earth then blame the earth for its malfunctions, and getting maybe a tad bit too much to follow, but the black form is strong and far from being hollow, Why do we get so much into this freeing Willy when Willy is free? He and them aint doing shit to free my city, and it’s a pity for those who can’t get the nitty gritty, that’s when the gritty gets grimy and the wicked gets witty”. This is probably my favorite song on Poverty’s Paradise and arguably Treach’s best lyrical performance of his career.

Klickow Klickow – And just like that we go from the stars and heavens to the grimy gutters of Illtown. Kay Gee concocts a hard gully backdrop for the entire crew (Naughty, Rottin Razkals, Cruddy Click and Road Dawgs) to get dirty and spit their filthy rhymes on.  This was tough.

Double I Skit -Short, but enjoyable little jingle.

Slang Bang – This may be the first instrumental that Treach has rapped over and got the better of him, as he never seems to get a good grasp of it. Kid Nyce’s jazzy backdrop is decent, but it jumps around way too much, which may be the reason Treach is unable to master it.

Shout Out – Vinnie and Kay Gee take 7 minutes to individually name and shout out every radio station that has played Naughty By Nature’s music since 1991, while Gordon Chambers sings a refrain in between their verses. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a “shout out” song formatted with verses and a hook (speaking of shout outs, Naughty does send ATCQ a shout out in the liner notes…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). This was overkill.

Outro – Naughty combines a funky Fred Wesley loop with a vocal snippet taken from John Belushi in Animal House to close out the album and set up the last song of the night…

Connections – This song was originally released about a month before Poverty’s Paradise on the New Jersey Drive Vol. 2 Soundtrack. Kay Gee lays down another grimy groove as Treach, Vinnie, Cruddy Click, the Road Dawgs and female emcee, Kandi Kain spit bars over it. Kandi Kain (which is a dope alias, by the way) gets the last word and holds her own, challenging Treach for the strongest verse on this one. I wonder whatever happened to her. Regardless, this was hard.

Treach (who is one of my favorite emcees of all time) seemed to have peaked lyrically on Poverty’s Paradise, as he spits some of the strongest, most insightful and mature bars of his career up to this point, while Vin Rock does Vin Rock. Poverty’s Paradise has a handful of great songs, but it also comes with one or two too many cameos, a few mediocre moments and a couple of songs that probably should have been scrapped. Poverty’s Paradise doesn’t stand up to Naughty By Nature or 19 Naughty III, but it’s still a solid album from the legendary Jersey trio.

-Deedub

 

 

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Show & AG -Goodfellas (May 30, 1995)

We last heard from Showbiz & AG in 1992 with their debut album Runaway Slave. The album helped lay the foundation for the well-respected Diggin’ In The Crates crew and many hailed it as a classic. But even if you don’t agree with the classic labeling (like myself), there’s no denying that it was a solid debut from the Bronx-based duo. The twosome would return in late spring of ’95 with their sophomore effort, Goodfellas.

Showbiz (who dropped the “biz” and was simply going as “Show” by this point) would produce the bulk of Goodfellas with an occasional assist from a few of his friends. To no one’s surprise, Goodfellas wasn’t a commercial success (I’m pretty sure no album released on Payday has been a commercial success), but it did receive positive reviews from the critics.

I bought Goodfellas when it came out, but haven’t listened to it in years, and other than the lead single I don’t remember much about it. Let’s see how this goes.

Never Less Than Ill – Our hosts kick things off with a rugged piano loop spread over hard stripped-down drums that AG uses to talk his shit over one long verse. This was a nice warm up track. And I love the song title.

You Know Now – Show sticks with the dark vibes from the opening track and provides another dim, but solid backdrop. AG continues to spew his braggadocio rhymes, and it sounds like he may have been taking a shot at someone with his line: “so burn baby burn, it’s the year of the only little big man, so wait your turn”. Subliminal or not, this was a cool record.

Check It Out – Show lays a sick xylophone loop over tough boom bap drums, and if that wasn’t enjoyable enough, he then brings in a beautiful string break during the hook. AG turns in a solid performance, but Show’s masterful production work does the heavy lifting on this one.

Add On – The first cipher joint of the evening features Lord Finesse (who is also responsible for the instrumental), AG and D-Flow sharing the microphone. I didn’t hate this one, but everything about it is just middle of the road.

Next Level (Nyte Time Mix) – This is the remix to the album’s first single. Premo lays down a thumpin’ bass line and adds a splash of this and a sprinkle of that, resulting in a certified banger that’s very suitable for midnight marauding. It’s always weird to me when an artist puts the remix of a song before the original mix in the album’s sequencing, but Premo’s groove is so infectious, I’ll let it ride.

Time For – DJ Roc Raida is credited for this boring backdrop. AG does the best he can with it, but he can’t even rescue this underwhelming record. The wordy hook and the abrupt way the song ends are just salt in the open wound.

Got The Flava – The second cipher cut of the evening features: AG, Party Arty, Wali World (sometimes spelled “Wally World”, depending on where you read it in the liner notes. I’ve never understood why whoever is responsible for writing the liner notes doesn’t double check with the artists to make sure they’re spelling their aliases correctly), D-Flow and a super unexpected verse from Method Man. Meth may have turned in the most unimpressive eight bars of his career on this one (which also awkwardly ends the song), but I like the rawness and ruggedness of the instrumental (which is credited to Show, AG and Black Sheep’s lead man, Dres).

Neighbahood Sickness – The first minute of this one is a super slick instrumental groove. Then our hosts switch it up to a slightly less pleasing backdrop that AG and Party Arty use to tag team the mic. It makes for a solid filler joint.

All Out -Very blah song with a terrible hook.

Medicine – This instrumental is the audio equivalent of what I would imagine heroin feels like when shooting it into your arm. Show makes his only verbal appearance on Goodfellas, as he helps with the hook at the end of the song. The song sounds like a demo, but I kind of dig the drowsy backdrop.

I’m Not The One – AG uses this very average instrumental to kick one quick verse about an old homie and a chick named Bonita, and explains how an attempted robbery turns into a double homicide. This was a strange storyline and an unnecessary filler track that sounds like an incomplete idea.

Got Ya Back – Show lays down a mellow melodic almost melancholic instrumental for AG and Wally World to tag team the mic and pledge their allegiance to their brotherhood. This is definitely one of my favorites on Goodfellas.

Next Level – As I mentioned earlier, this was the album’s lead single (come to think of it, it might have been the only single from Goodfellas). Show builds a brilliant soundscape around a thick sexy bass line and cinematic-like chords that AG uses to represent lovely for the Bronx: “Fake Lords, get strangled with mic chords, takin’ beats from my LP, sure aint healthy, Patterson Projects is where I rest, but I claim the whole planet, cause its mine goddammit, I’m God!”. I love Premo’s subdued “Nyte Time” remix, but the warm energy and vibes from Show’s instrumental is undeniable.

You Want It – For the final song of the evening, our hosts invite fellow DITC crew member, Diamond D to the party, as he shares the mic with AG and Party Arty. I didn’t care much for this one…and why didn’t Big L make a cameo on Goodfellas?

Goodfellas has a darker feel than its predecessor. Showbiz Show still uses jazzy loops, but the instrumentals have dimmer vibes and sound simpler than his production work on Runaway Slave, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. AG’s wordplay and word connection have definitely improved since Runaway Slave, and with Show parking his mic and focusing solely on production, AG does a solid job holding down the majority of the microphone duties by himself. Goodfellas biggest issue is the handful of songs that sound like incomplete ideas or rough drafts, but overall, it still makes for a decent listen. And I still want to know why Big L didn’t get a verse off on the album.

-Deedub

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1 Way – Destination Unknown (May 30, 1995)

I have a feeling this release date is wrong (I think it may have originally came out in ’94), but whatever. I’m rolling with it. 

Proverb, 2-Edge, Sweet-P and D-Love make up the four man crew known as 1 Way. The Tampa, Florida based foursome’s name is a direct reference to their overall message and purpose: Jesus is the only way (or the one way) to eternal life. I became hip to One Way back in ’99/’00 during my well-documented soul searching period (which also happens to be the name of a great Average White Band record and album), when I discovered their sophomore effort, SoulJourn. I thought it was a solid album, so several years later when I found their debut album Destination Unknown in the used cd dollar bins at Pawn America, I scooped it like Ice cream (peace to Big Daddy Kane).

Destination Unknown was released on a small independent label called Intersounds and distributed by Benson Music Group to Christian Book Stores around the globe. AJ Weir, DJ Mike Fury and the lead emcee of 1 Way, Proverb (which is a dope emcee alias) would handle all the production on the album. I bought Destination Unknown at least 10 years ago, but haven’t listened to it until now.

I pray (no pun intended) that Destination Unknown’s corny cover artwork isn’t an early indication to how bad the album is.

Intro – The album opens with a voice that is supposed to be that of Jesus, saying what he said to his disciples in John 14:6 (“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me”). I know 1 Way was just trying to explain the concept of the group’s name and the album title, but the distortion in the voice playing Jesus, almost sounds demonic.

Colorblind – The first song of the evening finds Proverb denouncing white supremist groups (i.e. the Arian Nation and the KKK) and stressing the importance of racial harmony amongst all men. For some reason Proverb decided to scream his way through his rhymes, which grows annoying by the end of his first verse. I struggle with the term “colorblind” when used in the context of racism, as there is nothing wrong with recognizing someone’s skin color and background. Along with gender and age, it’s one of the first things you subconsciously notice about a person when you meet them. The problem is not noticing or recognizing color or race, but mistreating people because of it. And on that note, let me get off my soapbox. Oh yeah…the song. I appreciate the sentiment, but I wasn’t feeling this one.

Work It (The Right Way) – I’m pretty sure this song was recorded around ’94. But Mike Fury’s instrumental and 2-Edge’s rhymes sound like it was made in the mid-eighties. And that’s not a compliment.

No Sellout (Jazz Mix) – AJ Weir hooks up a funky little bop for Proverb to flex over, as he proclaims his allegiance to Jesus Christ, whom he’ll never sellout. Prov has a few shaky moments on the mic (like when he says “If I was a tap dancer I’d be the Sandman”), but all in all, he turns in a serviceable performance, and the song ends up being decent.

Tales From Da Darkside – The darkside (or “darksyde”, depending on where you read the song title on the liner notes) that Proverb and D-Love are talking about is the hood. The two share hood stories that all end negatively, except for Proverb’s testimony: he shares that his focus on academics helped him escape the traps laid before him in the Tampa streets. Proverb’s haunting backdrop matches he and D-Love’s content, well.

Destination Unknown – On this title track Proverb and 2-Edge are asking the listener to consider where they’ll go after death: Either eternal life in heaven with Jesus and ’em or eternal damnation burning in a lake of fire with Lucifer and his imps. It must have been to expensive for the label to clear the sample of Barry White’s classic “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” record, as Mike Fury taps John Semsic to replay portions of it for the instrumental. It still sounds decent, just as Alfreda Gerald’s vocals on the hook and adlibs do. But Prov and 2-Edge spit unimpressive rhymes and fail to drive their message home.

Posers – Proverb calls out studio Christians (aka posers) over a low quality Mike Fury produced backdrop. This was really bad.

It’s Alright Ta Get Hype – Mike Fury’s instrumental sounds like a poor man’s version of the backdrop for Big Daddy Kane’s “Nuff Respect Due”. Proverb uses the up-tempo beat to spit his strongest bars of the evening up to this point.

Turn It Up – Proverb and Sweet P spit g-rated rhymes as they encourage the listen to “turn up the funky, funky sound”. Speaking of funky, Proverb combines a funky guitar loop (that reminds me a lot of Brand New Heavies’ “Dream Come True”) with a dope horn sample placed over busy drums, which makes for a pretty enjoyable instrumental.

Step 2 Tha Positive – 1 Way uses this one to motivate the listener to choose positive over negative, if the choice is presented. The rhymes are decent, but the ill Middle Eastern flavored flute loop the instrumental is built around is the real star of this song. This is easily the strongest song on Destination Unknown.

Viktim Of Tha Sindrome – Get it: sin-drome? This is pretty much 2-Edge’s version of “Tales From Da Darkside”. Proverb’s instrumental is decent, but 2-Edge sounds horrible on the mic.

Mic Check -This may be the most pointless interlude in the history of hip-hop albums.

No Sellout (Ruffnek Mix) – Ironically, 1 Way calls this remix the “Ruffnek Mix”, even though it sounds just as jazzy as the “Jazz Mix”. The instrumental is cool, but whoever they have re-rapping Proverb’s rhymes from the first mix, sounds annoying as hell with his whiny vocal tone.

Smile 4 Awhile – Once again, Mike Fury’s instrumental and 1 Way’s bars sound like they jumped in the DeLorean and went back to 1982. And with that, Final Destination, I mean, Destination Unknown is complete.

On Destination Unknown, 1 Way sounds like four individuals whose love for Jesus and hip-hop brought them together to form a group and make an album. The only problem is they were so rough around the edges at this point that they make sandpaper look smooth. Destination Unknown has a few bright spots on the production side, but even those limited moments aren’t great. Most of the rhymes and instrumentals sound antiquated by mid-nineties standards, making this fourteen track length album tough to listen to from beginning to end. I have a soft spot in my heart for gospel rap, but this is an early candidate for worst album of the year. Thank God for second chances.

-Deedub

 

 

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Beastie Boys – Root Down EP (May 23, 1995)

In May of 1994, the Beastie Boys dropped their 4th album, Ill Communication (you can read my thoughts on that album right here). The album was a commercial success (to date it has sold over 3 million copies) that produced four singles: “Sabotage”, “Get It Together”, “Sure Shot” and “Root Down”. For one reason or another, the Beastie Boys and/or the label (Capitol) thought it would be a good idea to make a whole EP around the “Root Down” single, and here we are. The EP would include three different versions of “Root Down” and a handful of live performances that the liner notes say were recorded in Europe, in the winter of ’95.

Those who read this blog on a regular basis already know how I feel about the Beastie Boys. So needless to say, I’m not super excited going into this one, but when it comes to the music, I’m a completionist, so I’m determined to see my way through the Beasties’ catalog.

Even when the catalog includes obvious money grabs like this EP.

Root Down (Free Zone Mix) – I briefly mentioned this remix in my Ill Communication post. The Prunes hook up a tough backdrop that even makes the BB’s rhymes sound stronger. This mix is way better than the o.g. mix, and might even be one of my favorite Beastie records.

Root Down (LP) – Speaking of the o.g mix, the Beasties decide to place the LP version right after the “Free Zone Mix”. Its pretty dope, just not as dope as the previous version.

Root Down (PP Balloon Mix) – Our hosts give Prince Paul a chance to remix “Root Down” with this one. Unfortunately, his instrumental is super dull and winds up being the weakest of the three mixes on the EP.

Time To Get Ill – The Beasties go back and revisit the title track from their debut album. They replace the basic drum beat in the original with a dark moody groove for this live rendition, and the musical facelift actually makes it sound better.

Heart Attack Man – Here’s another one from the Ill Communication album that the Beasties perform live. I wasn’t a fan of the album version and I’m not feeling this one either.

The Maestro – This one was on the Check Your Head album. I prefer the album version to this live mash up, but the go-go break in the middle of the song was kind of dope. Are they saying sardines and pork and beans?

Sabrosa – The BBs recreate this instrumental jam session from Ill Communication and it sounds just as good live as it did on the album.

Flute Loop – This live version plays just like the Ill Communication mix. Which I liked, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Time For Livin’ – Live version that sounds just like the album version on Check Your Head. 

Something’s Got To Give – See comments from “Time For Livin'”.

Like I mentioned in the opening, this project was an obvious money grab, and to make an entire EP around a single from another album is overkill. The crown jewel of the EP is the opening “Root Down (Free Zone Mix)”, but after that you can basically listen to Ill Communication and Check Your Head to get the same results as the live versions on this EP. The Root Down EP is actually a decent listen, but with the exception of three songs (“Root Down (Free Zone Mix)”, “Time To Get Ill” and “The Maestro”), it doesn’t bring anything new or worthwhile to the table. But if this is your first introduction to the Beastie Boys music, you’ll appreciate it more.

-Deedub

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