Masta Ace Incorporated – Sittin’ On Chrome (May 2, 1995)

 

After releasing his solid debut album, Take A Look Around in 1990 on Cold Chillin’, Master Ace would regroup. Literally. He would leave Cold Chillin’ to sign with Delicious Vinyl, drop the “er” at the end of Master, replacing it with an “a” and bring together a few of his friends (Lord Digga, Paula Perry and Leschea), reemerging in ’93 as Masta Ace Incorporated and releasing their first project together, Slaughtahouse (you can read my thoughts on that album here). On Slaughtahouse, Ace would come with a harder sound than the soft puppet holding persona he was given, thanks to the video for “Me And The Biz”. Ace decided to remix the lead single from SlaughtaHouse, “Jeep Ass Niguh”, replacing the dusty boom-bap on the original mix with a shiny west coast influenced instrumental and renaming it “Born To Roll”. The remix would catch on and spread like wild fire, becoming Ace’s biggest hit and the inspiration for the next Masta Incorporated album, Sittin’ On Chrome.

Ace would produce most of Sittin’ On Chrome (under his producer pseudonym, Ase One) with some assistance from Uneek, the Bluez Bruthas and Louie Vega. The album would become Masta Ace’s most commercially successful album, but critics and fans were torn, as some hardcore east coast heads felt Ace was dumbing down his style and using a west coast production sound just to gain commercial success.

Through the years, Ace himself as often called Sittin’ On Chrome his “compromise” album, as he was trying to give the label what they wanted and still stay somewhat true to himself. Twenty-five years later, let’s see how he did balancing the two.

IntroSittin’ On Chrome opens with Masta Ace setting up the storyline that will playout through the album: His cousin Jerome (aka J-Dog) flies to New York from South Central L.A. to spend the summer with him. Ace acknowledges the differences in their styles and mentalities, but also recognizes how they can learn from one another, bettering each other in the process.  The storyline is a larger metaphor for Masta Ace Incorporated’s East coast swag over heavily West Coast flavored production that you’ll hear throughout this album. The Bluez Bruthas vibrating bass line placed underneath the perfect sprinklage of milky keys makes for a dope instrumental for the opening scene of Ace’s latest movie.

The I.N.C. Ride – This was the first single from Sittin’ On Chrome (I know “Born To Roll” came out first, but I’m not counting that as a Sittin’ On Chrome single). Louie Vega (whose name has come across TimeIsIllmatic several times on past posts) concocts a smooth crispy clean instrumental built around an interpolation of the Isley Brothers’ classic “Living For The Love Of You”. Ace uses the smoothness to show he can still rhyme (“Chumps be all up on it, like a Charlotte Hornet, but they full of Chicago Bull shit, cause they don’t want…ooh, don’t let me sing, I’m peaking, freaking, get in that ass like a G-string”) and gets the listener ready to go on this musical ride with The I.N.C. This is a dope record that sounds even better when played while cruising on a beautiful summer day.

Eastbound – Ace lays down an ill instrumental built around a muddy and moody bass line and adds perfectly placed splashes of melodic chords (sounds like bells or a xylophone?) to it. Lord Digga spits his first verse of the evening in between Ace’s, while Leschea drops in to add a few adlibs. Solid rhymes and a bangin’ instrumental: that’s how I like my hip-hop.

What’s Going On! – This song starts with the first interlude of the night that has Ace trying to set up a double date for him and Jerome. Then the Bluez Bruthas drops a clean breezy west coastish instrumental (with a co-production credit going to Ace) that Ace blesses with his unique rhyming style.

The B-Side – Ironically, this was on the b-side of the “Born To Roll” single. Ace (who proudly proclaims “nobody’s got a flow that’s dumber than mine”) invites the whole INC to jump on this one, as they represent for Brooklyn over his ruggedly smooth backdrop.

Sittin’ On Chrome – Ace was definitely trying to recapture the magic from “Born To Roll” with this one, which becomes blatantly obvious as soon as you hear the buzzing bass line that sounds very similar to the one he used for his biggest hit. Ace definitely doesn’t spit his most profound lyrics on this one, but he rides the beat well and the instrumental is kind of a banger.

People In My Hood – Masta Ace takes us on a trip through his hood, introducing us to some of the colorful personalities and the drama that lives there. Ace’s longtime homie, Uneek hooks up a solid mid-tempo bop for him to drop his meatiest rhymes of the evening. This one sounds better today than it did back in ’95. The song ends with another Ace/Jerome skit that finds them on their double date with two ladies who are complaining about the music Ace is playing in his system. This sets up the next song…

Turn It Up – Leschea gets a solo joint to display her very average singing ability over Ace’s enjoyable instrumental (the Bluez Bruthas get a co-credit for the track). They kind of use a cheat code by sampling Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine”, but its still dope. The song ends with a hi-larious cousin Jerome interlude that sets up the next song…

U Can’t Find Me – Ace builds this instrumental around an ill Kool & The Gang loop and turns it into a banger for himself and Lord Digga to exchange verses over. Ace’s instrumental is scrumptiously addictive. I’m serious, it’s that good.

Ain’t No Game – The whole crew is back for this one, with Ace, Digga and Paula spittn’ verses and Leschea singing on the hook. The rhymes were cool, but Ace’s boring instrumental almost made me hit the skip button.

Freestyle – This one starts out with a pretty funny Ace/Jerome interlude, then the Bluez Bruthas drop a thick bass line and a jazzy horn loop (complemented by a well-planted Queen Latifah vocal sample) for Ace to kick “freestyle” rhymes over. Our host doesn’t disappoint, as he displays clever wordplay and drops witty punchlines, rapping laps around the Bluez Bruthas decent backdrop.

Terror – This is probably my favorite song on Sittin’ On Chrome. Ace samples Hall & Oates “Sara Smile” for the backdrop and turns it into a soothing groove that he uses to talk his shit and flex his dope unorthodox style on: “It’s something of a phenomenon, like white lines, me and mines run thick like Heinz, ketchup, you can’t catch up, so play the rear, over there, it’s B-bass in your ear, and your eyes, so realize and recognize, a nigga dies, when we terrorize”. Terrorism never sounded so good.

Da Answer -Pleasantly melodic filler material.

4 Da Mind – Ace and Digga are joined by the Cella Dwellas (UG and Phantasm) on this cipher joint. Ace lays downs down a quality instrumental and actually gets out rapped by the Dwellas and Digga. Murdered on your own shit. It happens to the best of them from time to time.

Born To Roll – The song that fueled the existence of Sittin’ On Chrome. Like I mentioned in the opening of this post, this is a remix of “Jeep Ass Niguh” from SlaughtaHouse that Ace released as a standalone single in 1994. Ace uses the same rhymes, but changes the hook and replaces the dusty boom bap from the O.G mix with Miami inspired drums, a jazzy east coast horn sample, bells from Heaven and a killer buzzing west coast bass line. This is easily Ace’s biggest hit and it still sounds great after all these years.

The Phat Kat Ride – This is the remix to “The I.N.C. Ride”. Masta Ace cooks up a creamy smooth laid back instrumental, giving the lead single a completely different feel. I like the O.G. mix, but this remix feels way better.

Content wise, Sittin’ On Chrome lives up to the album cover: Ace and the INC celebrating fly rides and the boomin’ systems inside them. Musically, Ace and company put together a batch of west coast inspired instrumentals rooted in east coast boom bap (that Ace often referred to as Brooklyn bass music), which I feel makes up Ace’s best produced album to date (and that says a lot, considering his quality catalog). There are a few mediocre moments and the Jerome storyline ends kind of abruptly, but Sittin’ On Chrome is a great listen that has actually aged well. And it made me realize how much I miss Ace’s mid-nineties “dumb” flow.

-Deedub

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Dream Warriors – Subliminal Simulation (April 25, 1995)

The last time we checked in with the Toronto-based group, Dream Warriors was in ’91 and they were a duo releasing their debut album And Now The Legacy Begins (read my thoughts on that album here). Somewhere in between ’91 and ’95, King Lou and Capital Q decided to double the size of the crew, adding Spek and DJ Luv as official members of Dream Warriors. Not only did the DWs go from a duo to a quartet, but they also left 4th & Broadway and signed with Pendulum/EMI, where they would release their sophomore effort, Subliminal Simulation.

The Dream Warriors would produce most of the album with help from a few special guests (more on that in a bit). Subliminal Simulation would produce a couple of singles that pretty much remained silent. The album didn’t sell well, either and received mixed reviews upon its release. I’ve never heard any of the songs on Subliminal Simulation before this post, but since And Now The Legacy Begins was mildly entertaining and I found a used copy for a few bucks, I figured I’d give it a chance.

Intro – The album opens with warm laidback chords and a voice saying: “It is eternal power coupled with youth”. More on that later.

Are We There Yet – The Dream Warriors kick things off with a thick nasty bass line and two ill horn loops, while picking up where they left off at on Legacy Begins, spewing more super abstract rhymes. We also get to hear from the newest addition to the DWs, Spek, whose coded style falls right in line with Lou and Q’s. The DWs sound decent enough, but they could have rapped this song in Chinese and I would bob my head to the bangin’ instrumental.

Day In Day Out – This was the lead single from Subliminal Simulation. The DWs build the dope backdrop around a funky Millie Jackson loop as they discuss how the monotony of the daily grind can begin to take its toll on you. This was dope, and they even give a shout out to ATCQ at the end of the song. (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check)

Adventures Of Plastic Man – The DWs give the floor to female spoken word artist, 99 to share a poem about how much she despises the feel of condoms inside her during sex and expresses how much she misses “a clean fuck”. I can’t knock a sista for liking the raw dog, but neither the poem or the aimless instrumental worked for me.

It’s A Project Thing – Now here’s a Premo gem I’m sure most of you didn’t know existed (including me before this post). My favorite producer of all time slides our Canadian friends a slick jazzy backdrop that they use to paint with more abstractions. Well done, Premo.

Paranoia – The ‘P’ Noise – I didn’t like anything about this one.

I’ve Lost My Ignorance – Guru joins the Dream Warriors on this one, as they celebrate (or mourn) losing their ignorance and replacing it with knowledge. I have a sneaking suspicion Guru didn’t write the few bars he spits on this song, since he sounds just as coded and riddled as his hosts. The rhymes are cool, but the jazzy groove (credited to the DWs and Gang Starr) is easy on the ears.

Break The Stereo – Not literally. The stereo the DWs speak of are stereotypes. I think? I wasn’t crazy about this one, but the instrumental is decent.

When I Was At The Jam – The DWs give spoken word artist, Black Katt some shine, as they play a portion of him performing one of his poems live. As far as spoken word pieces go, this was cool.

Burns 1 – 99 gets a second chance to share her poetry. This time around she’s talking about STDs over a trash instrumental that sounds like it might have been added on after she recorded her vocals. This was terrible.

Tricycles And Kittens – Speaking of STDs, I believe this song title is referring to STDs and women who have them. Butterfly (from the Digable Planets) stops by to add a few abstract bars to the DW’s heavily encrypted lyrics. Trying to decode their rhymes almost gave me a headache, but the instrumental feels good and I like the randomness an unconventional pairing of tricycles and kittens.

California Dreamin’ – This was the second and final single from Subliminal Simulation. The DWs loop up Les McCann’s “Go On And Cry”, as King Lou goes dolo, rhyming about what appears to be a woman, but the third verse makes it sound like the woman he’s been speaking about is a metaphor for his music. Lou’s bars may have left me confused, but the instrumental is clearly pleasing to the ears.

No Dingbats Allowed – If you don’t come with depth, the DWs aint fuckin’ with you. The Canadian based production team, Da Grassroots are responsible for the creamy yumminess in this instrumental.

You Think I Don’t Know -Black Katt shares another live poem reading. This time around he discusses the negative connotation put on the word “black”, before flippin’ it at the end. Or as he calls it: “Subconscious phycology reversed”. This was pretty dope.

Sink Into The Frame Of The Portrait – The instrumental sounds like the DWs made this for The Lion King Soundtrack. I’m not a fan.

I Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya – And I wouldn’t wanna listen to this song again.

The CD version of Subliminal Simulation has a hidden unnamed track, which sounds like it may have been recorded a few years before the rest of the album (which would explain why King Lou and Capital Q keeping saying “It’s 1992” during the song). Over a Latin flavored instrumental, dripping with Samba vibes, Lou and Q sounds refreshed and nimble on the mic. This was dope.

Outro – The DWs bring back the warm vibes from the “Intro” and pose the question to the answer given at the beginning of the album. And with that, Subliminal Simulation is a wrap.

Let me start by saying that the Dream Warriors are competent lyricists, but trying to understand their rhymes is mentally exhausting. I’ve listened to Subliminal Simulation at least 10 times in the past few weeks, trying to grasp the meaning of the four man crews heavily encrypted bars, but I’m left scratching my head and in need of a nap. On the flip side, the DWs production easily translates to audio bliss. There are a few musical blunders and a couple of unwarranted interludes (in the form of spoken word pieces) on Subliminal Simulation, but overall the DWs create an enjoyable jazzy hip-hop atmosphere.

Maybe the Dream Warriors were trying to trick our subconscious into believing that their extremely abstract riddled rhymes have a deeper meaning, but in reality they just through together a bunch of words and made them sound profound. We may never know for sure, but it would explain the album title.

-Deedub

 

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Mobb Deep – The Infamous (April 25, 1995)

Most casual fans don’t know that before Mobb Deep released The Infamous album in ’95 they released their debut album Juvenile Hell on 4th & Broadway Records back in 1993.  The lead single “Peer Pressure” produced by Premo, was dope, but the rest of the album left a lot to be desired ( I bought it on cd back in the day, but I have no idea what happened to it). After Juvenile Hell flopped, Havoc and Prodigy (RIP) would sever their ties with 4th & Broadway and sign with Loud Records, where they would release their next four albums, including the subject of today’s post, The Infamous. Thank God for second chances.

The liner notes for The Infamous credit Mobb Deep for most of the production work (but everybody knows Havoc is the real mastermind behind the Mobb’s music), with Q-Tip receiving production credit for three of the album’s tracks (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). The Infamous was a commercial success (earning Mobb Deep their first gold plaque, two months after its release) and is universally heralded as Mobb Deep’s best album and one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.

This April marked The Infamous‘ 25th birthday. Let’s celebrate by revisiting this landmark album and see how it’s held up over the years.

The Start Of Your Ending (41st Side) – Havoc starts the album off with poppin’ drums placed underneath an evil piano loop that he and Prodigy use to set the mood for the evening, spittin’ their crime and violent hood rhymes.

The Infamous Prelude – Prodigy uses this 2 minute interlude to talk shit and take subliminals at random niggas and rappers (*cough* Keith Murray). After all these years I still lol when I hear P dis rappers that talk “that crazy space shit that don’t even make no sense” ” and then threatens to “start punchin’ niggas in they face just for livin'”. Classic interlude.

Survival Of The Fittest – This was the second single from The Infamous. P and Havoc pick up where they left off at on “The Start Of Your Ending”, smacking you in the face with more tough talk and hood politicin’. Havoc’s mean instrumental sounds just as convincing and entertaining as the duo’s rhymes.

Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines) – Mobb Deep invites Raekwon and, arguably one of the top ten to ever spit on a mic, Nas to join them on this cipher joint as they pledge allegiance to their crews, or as the hooks says: “As time goes by, an eye for eye, we in this together son, your beef is mines, so long as the sun shines to light up the sky, we in this together son your beef is mines”. Of course this was made a few years before Nas and Prodigy would begin their beef (good thing they didn’t say word is bond during the hook). I remember being super disappointed by Nas’ verse and Havoc’s sleepy instrumental back in the day. Nas’ verse is still underwhelming, but Havoc’s instrumental sounds better than I remembered it (it reminds me of Gza’s “I Gotcha Back”, which ironically, I like). Regardless, it’s still one of my least favorite songs on the album.

Just Step Prelude – Mobb Deep affiliate, Big Noyd makes his first appearance of the evening, as he joins Prodigy to spit acapella rhymes on this prelude to the next song…

Give Up The Goods (Just Step) – Q-Tip (credited in the liner notes by his other alias “The Abstract”) gets his first production credit of the evening, as he builds this one around poppin’ drums and an ill Esther Phillips’ loop. Big Noyd joins Mobb Deep on the mic and actually out rhymes both of his hosts, who also turn in dope verses. This is easily one of my favorite songs on The Infamous.

Temperature’s Rising – Speaking of my favorites, this one goes in the same category as “Give Up The Goods”. Q-Tip comes right back with another brilliant instrumental (Mobb Deep gets a co-production credit) for Havoc and P to share stories about a couple of their comrades who had to take flight after the kitchen got to hot, hence the song title: “What up, Black? Hold your head wherever you’re at, on the flow from the cops with wings on your back, that snitch nigga – gave police your location, we’ll chop his body up in six degrees of separation, Killer listen, shit aint the same without you at home, phony niggas walk around tryna be your clone”. Phenomenal instrumental, great rhymes, and Crystal Johnson’s vocals on the hook and adlibs is the cherry on top of this hip-hop treat.

Up North Trip – The song starts out with Prodigy spitting a verse about life locked up behind bars, which is also what the title and hook suggest. But on the second verse, Havoc quickly deviates from that theme and gets right back to shootin’ random dudes, gettin’ high and bangin’ chicks. P adds a third verse where he lets his gangsta persona down for a few bars and you get a rare glimpse of the vulnerable side of Albert Johnson: “Then I pause…and ask God why, did he put me on this earth just so I could die? I sit back and build on all the things I did wrong, why I’m still breathin’ and all my friends gone, I try not to dwell on the subject for a while, cause I might get stuck in this corrupt lifestyle, but my heart pumps foul blood through my arteries, and I can’t turn it back it’s a part of me”. Havoc’s melodic hardcore backdrop sounds just as entertaining as the duo’s rhymes.

Trife Life – The song opens with the audio equivalent of manna falling from heaven and Mobb Deep sharing a few words over it. Then Havoc drops his hollow drums accompanied by airy vibes and a thick bass line that he and Prodigy use to share tales from the hood. These dudes are in a zone.

Q.U. – Hectic – Havoc and P use this one to spew more thugged out bars. Hav goes a bit too far when he gets his Nino Brown on and brags about using little babies as shields on the second verse, but his dark unsettling chords coupled with the anxious jazzy horn loop makes for a brilliant instrumental.

Right Back At You – Havoc (with a co-production credit going to Schott Free) creates his rawest and darkest instrumental of the evening, as he and P spit their most menacing bars of the night: “Now run for your life, or you wanna get your heat, whatever, we can die together, as long as I send your maggot ass to the essence, I don’t give a fuck about my presence, I’m lost in the blocks of hate and can’t wait, for the next crab nigga to step and meet fate”. They also invite Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Big Noyd to spit verses, and Noyd nearly steals the show from Prodigy with his strong song closing verse. This sinisterly dark masterpiece is another one of my favorites.

The Grave Prelude – Short interlude prelude that sets up the next song…

Cradle To The Grave – Havoc lays a jazzy/bluesy backdrop that he and Prodigy use to discuss life, death and all the drama that comes in between the two when you’re caught up in the street life. I like the somberness of the instrumental and Prodigy’s reflection on the song’s final verse.

Drink Away The Pain – Q-Tip get his third and final production credit of the evening, sliding the duo some ole slick jazzy shit that they use to compare their alcoholic behavior to romantic relationships. Tip also adds a verse, sandwiched in between Hav’s and P’s, which kind of works as a PSA about the consequences of crime (he cleverly uses popular designer clothing brands to drive his point home). This one sounds way better than I remember it back in ’95.

Shook Ones Pt. II – This was the lead single from The Infamous and I can confidently say, the biggest and most influential record in Mobb Deep’s catalog. I still remember the first time I heard this record on the local late night hip-hop radio show back in the day (KMOJ, stand up!!). Havoc’s lurking bass line mixed with the angelic chords in the loop, matched with Havoc and Prodigy’s vividly frigid bars, left me mesmerized. 25 years later and it still has the same effect on me. This is easily one of the ten greatest hip-hop songs of all-time. Side note: Pt 1, which is easily accessible on the web or your favorite streaming platform, ain’t got nothin’ on Pt II.

Party Over – I completely forgot this song existed. Big Noyd (who Mobb Deep should have just made the official third member) joins Havoc and P again, as they all spit more of their hood rhetoric. For the first time on The Infamous, Mobb Deep’s crimology rings hollow and uninteresting. So does the instrumental.

Through the years, hip-hop has given us a fair share of thug rappers spewing hood soliloquies. Most of them have a few decent songs, but all the repetitive criminal content for the length of an album becomes a challenge to sit and listen to. Prodigy and Havoc don’t stray away from criminal content on The Infamous, but unlike their contemporaries, they defy the odds and miraculously are able to keep the thug themes interesting for 16 tracks (well, 15, but that’s still impressive!). When you couple the duo’s entertainingly brash lyricism with the brilliant batch of instrumentals on The Infamous, you get a hip-hop masterpiece. I’ve always held The Infamous in high regards, but after listening to it again these past few weeks, it may have moved into my top 10 albums of all time. Your thoughts?

-Deedub

 

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T-Bone – Tha Life Of A Hoodlum (April 4, 1995)

The last (and first) time we heard from T-Bone was back in ’93 with his debut album Redeemed Hoodlum (read my post on that album here). The San Francisco based, demon killin’, gospel spittin’ emcee was able to deliver a solid debut album, thanks to quality production from the L.A. Posse and a rhyming ability that rivals a large portion of his secular counterparts. He would return in ’95 with his sophomore effort, keeping with the “Hoodlum” theme, Tha Life Of A Hoodlum.

T-Bone would lean heavily on the L.A. Posse again, as Muffla would produce most of the album with Bobcat and Chase handling a few songs as well. Like Redeemed Hoodlum, I first became familiar with Tha Life Of A Hoodlum during my late nighties soul searching period. It’s been a minute since I listened to it, but if my memory serves me correct, I thought it was pretty solid back in the day.

Let’s see how time has treated Tha Life Of A Hoodlum.

Tha Life Of A Hoodlum  – The album opens with, what sounds like, a group of black kids walking through a Hispanic hood where they’re confronted by a cholo. Then you hear guns shots, screaming and other commotion before the narrator sums up what you just listened to. End scene.

Throwin’ Out Tha Wicked – The first song of the evening features a dope mid-tempo bop courtesy of Muffla, that T-Bone uses to proclaim his loyalty to God and display his hatred for Satan and all things wicked. Matter of fact, T-Bone hates Satan and his imps so much that he’s got demons choking on his double barrel and he’s spraying them with his “gat up against the wall like graffiti”. It might sound cheesy, but our host sounds pretty entertaining buckin’ demons and denouncing witches and ouija boards. He does make a small mishap when he blatantly mimics Rza’s energetic horrorcorish flow during the third verse, but the dope Q-Tip vocal sample on the hook (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) washes away that iniquity.

Thief In Tha Night – T-Bone comes from the perspective of a lukewarm Christian who gets left behind after the rapture takes place and he’s left to try and survive on earth without taking the mark of the beast (if you’re confused about the rapture and the mark of the beast, check out the Book of Revelations on your own. I aint got time to get into all that right here). Bone’s storyline is compelling and Muffla’s melancholy instrumental suits our host’s rhymes well.

Psycho Ward – Short interlude that sets up the next song…

Straight Up Psycho – Bone picks up where he left off at on “Throwin’ Out Tha Wicked” and gets right back to peelin’ demons caps for the next 5 minutes. I’m not really a fan of this one, mainly because of the plain Jane instrumental.

Amen Somebody, Part 1 – Bone takes a portion of a sermon (credited to a Pastor Carlos) that compares the story from the book of Exodus where Pharaoh is trying to keep the children of Israel in bondage to Satan currently trying to keep Christians in bondage. As far as interludes go, this was pretty interesting, and Muffla’s somber instrumental sounds great behind the preaching.

Drunk In Tha Spirit – Our host builds this song’s concept around the scripture from Ephesians 5:18. Bone finds his pocket and smoothly rocks the hell (no pun intended) out of Muffla’s slick jazzy instrumental. And remember, if you ever hang out with T-Bone at the bar: “pass the holy wine cause” he “don’t drink no Tanqueray”.

Pushin’ Up Daises – Our host invites his homie, E-Dog to join him on this duet, as the duo swap hood stories about dudes who chose the gangsta lifestyle and died in the line of duty. And of course they use the final verse as an opportunity to witness. The content is cool, but I’m neutral on how I feel about the instrumental.

Still Jabbin’ – As T-Bone tells you at the end of the song’s first verse: “this be the sequel to Jabbin’ the Jaw”, which was on Redeemed Hoodlum. The song starts off playing the O.G. version, but is quickly interrupted by a “rip”, and then Chase’s mellow vibes and heavy drums come in for T-Bone to get loose and “flip the script” on. The Rza soundbite on the hook was a nice added touch.

187em’ Demons – I’m sure by the song title you can figure out what this song’s about. T-Bone’s already killed 500 demons, and we’re only at the halfway point of the album. Muffla’s west coast drenched backdrop is dope.

Amen Somebody, Part 2 – This interlude picks up where Part 1 left off, as Pastor Carlos passionately wraps up his sermon on spiritual bondage.

On & On &… – T-Bone invites Homeboy Sermon (hey, I didn’t make up his alias) to speak on some of the ills that trouble the hood over a super somber Muffla instrumental. This sets up the next song.

Too Many Pleitos – Bobcat gets his first production credit of the evening, and he slides T-Bone a soulfully gloomy instrumental that our host uses to expound upon the violence in the hood that Homeboy Sermon touched on during the previous track: “Sometimes I wish God never made the colors red or blue, cause now I always got a funeral that I gotsta go to, and half the time it’s a little kid that’s dead, and it breaks my heart to see the mommy crying by the death bed, how many more of my people got to go extinct, before we see that Latins dying faster than an eye can blink?”. This one sounds just as relevant today as it did 25 years ago.

Life After Death – Our host invites Mr. Grimm (from “Indo Smoke” fame) to join him on this duet, as the two attempt to persuade the listener to choose Christ and eternal life or die and burn in hell for eternity. Both emcees turn in solid performances, but Muffla’s instrumental shines the brightest.

Crazy Hispanic – Bobcat gets his second and final production credit of the evening, and it’s a beauty. T-Bone uses the west coast freshness to showcase his undeniable talent while lifting up the Savior’s name. And he manages to buck a few more demons.

Madd Skillz – The beat is too basic and T-Bone’s overly animated lyrics sound corny.

Off Tha Hook – T-Bone chops it up with Mr. Grimm over the phone about all kinds of randomness, hence the title of the interlude. Other than to listen to the eerie but interesting music that you can barely hear in the background, there’s no reason to listen to this more than once.

Lyrical Assassin (Remix) – The original version was on the Redeemed Hoodlum album. Chase laces T-Bone with some slick west coast heat that he uses to re-rap his lyrics from the O.G. version, minus the B-Real style-jacking he did the first time around. This remix is way stronger than the original.

Daves Not Here – This interlude must have been an inside joke between T-Bone and his manager, Dave Kirby. No replay value here, but my 5 year old son and his friend found it amusing.

To Tha Homies – Over a funky bop (courtesy of Dr. K and Muffla), T-Bone gives his shout outs while a chipmunk voiced Muffla provides the adlibs.

Another Hoodlums Prayer – Muffla lays an emotional instrumental for T-Bone to close out the album with a prayer. I would have loved to hear Bone spit bars on this heat, but it still makes for a fitting outro.

On Tha Life Of A Hoodlum’s first song (“Throwin’ Out Tha Wicked”), T-Bone confesses “I’m obsessed with slaughtering these demons everyday”, and that obsession quickly becomes apparent as you listen to the album. I didn’t keep a tally, but I’m pretty sure T-Bone beat up or killed at least six millions demons during Tha Life Of A Hoodlum’s 21 tracks. But if you can get past Bone’s demon obsession and his occasional borrowing of other emcees styles (i.e. Rza and E-40), you’ll hear the talented rhymer that he is and appreciate most of the L.A. Posse’s quality production.

-Deedub

 

 

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Mike E – Pass It On (April 4, 1995)

My album collection has some pretty obscure pieces, but today’s post might take the crown. I’d be surprised if any of you have ever heard of Mike “E” Wright, who simply goes by Mike E. The Detroit born and bred musician grew up just blocks away from the legendary Motown label. The son of a Pentecostal Bishop, Mike got his break into the industry playing guitar for Gospel legends such as The Winans, BeBe & CeCe Winans and The Clark Sisters. He would go on to help found my favorite gospel group of all time, Commissioned, where both Marvin Sapp and Fred Hammond (yep, the guy you saw going up against Kirk Franklin on Verzuz this past Sunday) got their start. Eventually, Mike E would also pick up a mic and start rapping for Jesus as well. He signed to the Christian label, Reunion Records, where he would release his first two albums: Mike E & The G-Rap Crew and Good New For The Bad Timez, which would earn the holy hip-hopper back to back Dove Awards (which is the Christian music version of the Grammys). After Good News, Mike would leave Reunion and unite with Reggie White (rip), becoming the CEO/Co-Owner and first artist signed to the Hall of Fame defensive end’s independent label, Big Doggie Records, where he released his third album, Pass It On in, produced entirely by himself and Jet Penix.

I was introduced to Mike E by the lead single from Pass It On (“Back In The Day”) a few years after the album was released. This was during my soul searching period, when I was exclusively listening to Christian hip-hop. I thought the song was pretty fresh, so 10 years ago when I found a used copy of Pass It On for 99 cents at Pawn America, I spent my hard earned dollar and copped it.

So even if the rest of album is trash, I’ll still have gotten my money’s worth.

Take A Ride – After a short interlude that has Mike-E acting as a DJ for the faux radio station WGRAP (Get it? God Rap?), an empty cheesy sounding instrumental drops and Mike E goes into “old negro spiritual mode” with his hook. From his opening bars, you quickly hear that Mike E’s antiquated flow (even by ’95 standards) is limited. The choir singing on the hook was cool, though.

Pass It On – Over a somber backdrop, Mike-E vaguely shares he and his homie’s (Little Tommy) mistakes as kids, in hope that he can keep another kid from making the same mistakes (even though Mike never actually tells us what his mistakes were). Mike’s intentions are good, but his rhymes ring hollow. The instrumental is cool, though.

Ain’t Nothin But The Word – This was godawful. No pun intended.

Gotta Go – “You think ya heard it all yo, I got somethin’ for ya, if you don’t like what you’re hearing, here’s a dime, go call a lawyer”. This is an example of the superb level of lyricism you can expect to hear from Mike E on this song. The instrumental is decent, but with lines like “1 into the 2, into the 3, into the fo’, like Snoop the Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre I’m at the do'”, little Mikey’s performance is almost laughable.

Spread The Word – From the cheesy Casio keyboard sounding instrumental to Mike’s elementary sounding rhymes and hook, this song made me feel like I was eight years old again sitting in Sunday school.

Better Now Than Later – Mike E invites Iali to add adlibs and spit a view bars, as the duo express the importance of giving your life to Christ today instead of waiting for the unpromised tomorrow. Now that I think about it, Mike-E sounds like Arrested Development’s front man, Speech. Only less skilled. I like the jazzy laidback feel good  instrumental, and the softness of Iali’s voice sounds nice flowing over it.

Back In The Day – This was the sole reason I spent my 99 cents on Pass It On. Mike and Jet laydown a breezy instrumental with some slick guitar chords, as our host reminisces about his childhood and gives props to the people in his life that helped him make it through. I still love this song’s sentiment and the instrumental.

Think About It – Mike takes an old soulful Pentecostal praise and worship song and turns it into a smooth hip-hop/r&b groove. I mentioned earlier that Mike E sounds a lot like Speech, but this song actually sounds like something Arrested Development would have done back in the day, and I enjoyed it.

Rap Jam – Mike E invites his Nashville (aka Da’ville) crew to take part in this holy cipher. Iali, Laish, Sigmund, DJ Majik, Bishop and Mike E each spit a verse showcasing their skills or lack thereof, over a jazzy jam session. No one spits anything worth quoting, but the instrumentation is solid.

Make A Move – Little Mikey loops up (or replays) James Brown’s “Popcorn With A Feeling” to share a spoken word poem as a plea to get the listeners to roll “with that kid from the manger”. Mike E sounds better as a spoken word artist than a rapper, and using this JB loop is kind of a cheat code, but you can’t deny its funkiness.

Credit Mix – Mike E loved the “Better Now Than Later” instrumental so much that he brought it back to give his shout outs over it.

Guitar ReMix – Our host also recycles the “Make A Move” instrumental, but substitutes the spoken word poem with some sick licks from his “1968 screamin’ guitar”. This was actually super dope.

On Pass It On, Mike E comes off as a good hearted well-intentioned guitarist impersonating a rapper. Kudos to our host for his clean language and positive messages, but his 1982 flow combined with his elementary rhymes, just aint it. Most of the instrumentation on Pass It On is decent with a few blatant missteps, but none of it is spectacular. Pass It On is mediocre at best and only worth a purchase if you can find it for a dollar at your local record store. And the church said: Amen.

-Deedub

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Justice 4 George Floyd

By now I’m sure you all recognize the face and know what happened to this man by the hand of the police. This is personal to me for two reasons: For one, I’m a black man that has experienced foul treatment from the police, simply because the color of my skin. Secondly, Minneapolis is my city. I was born and raised in South Minneapolis, just minutes away from the Cup Foods store that George Floyd was murdered in front of. My first apartment as an adult was literally around the corner from the spot where this black man’s life was taken.

This unjustly act resulted in the frustrated people of Minneapolis rioting, looting and burning shit down. I won’t try to justify the rioting, but I understand the pain and frustration that sparked it. And if you’re more upset about the rioting than the murder of George Floyd, you’re part of the problem. They can rebuild those buildings, but his life is gone forever.

As of today, only 1 of the 4 officers has been arrested and charged. All four cowards need to be charged and convicted of murder, so the rest of law enforcement across the country knows that we will no longer tolerate unjust and racist treatment by power drunken punks hiding behind their badges.

And if they don’t. We’ll burn this whole fuckin’ country down. #Justice4George.

I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled program next week. In the meantime, here’s a list of songs from my past posts that I call Soundtrack to Revolutions and Riots.

“A riot is the language of the unheard” – MLK

“Fuck The Police” – NWA

“Don’t Believe The Hype” – Public Enemy

“Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” – Public Enemy

“Downtown” – Def Jef

“Fed Up Wit The Bullshit” – Big L

“Down Goes The Devil” – Channel Live

“Fo’ Eva Blunted” – Nine

“Hold Ya Head” – Showbiz & AG

“So Tough” – Freddie Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles

“Claimin’ I’m A Criminal” – Brand Nubian

“Down For The Real” – Brand Nubian

“Tears Of A Black Man” – Gospel Gangstas

“Constables” – O.C.

“Hand Of The Dead Body” – Scarface featuring Ice-Cube

“Dog It” – Digable Planets

“Dyin Out Here” – College Boyz

“Reality” – Da Youngstas

“Protect And Serve” – UGK

“Maintain” – Organized Konfusion

“Mister Landlord”  – Arrested Development

“Ain’t The Devil Happy” – Jeru Da Damaja

“Enemy” – Ice Cube

“Souljah Story” – 2pac

“I Don’t Give A Fuck” – 2pac

“Violent” – 2pac

“Words Of Wisdom” – 2pac

“I Wanna Kill Sam” – Ice Cube

“Just A Friendly Game Of Baseball” – Main Source

Speak Upon It” – Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs

“Take A Look Around” – Masta Ace

“The Racist” – BDP

“30 Cops Or More” – BDP

“Arrest The President” – Intelligent Hoodlum

“One Time Gaffled Em Up” – Compton’s Most Wanted

“Illegal Search” – LL Cool J

“God Complex” – Def Jef

“Can’t Truss It” – Public Enemy

“I Want To Be Free” – Too Short

“Freedom Got An AK” – Da Lench Mob

“Rodney K.” – Willie D

“You Still aggiN” – Willie D

“Stereotype” – Kam

“Black And Blue” – Brand Nubian

“The Godz…” – Brand Nubian

“Pass The Gat” – Brand Nubian

“The Day The Niggaz Took Over” – Dr. Dre

“When Will They Shoot?” – Ice Cube

“We Had To Tear This ___ Up” – Ice Cube

“Who Got The Camera?” – Ice Cube

“Not Yet Free” – Coup

I Know You” – Coup

-Deedub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King Tee – IV Life (March 28, 1995)

During the late eighties through the late nineties, I was completely submerged in hip-hop music. From the east coast emcees to the west coast acts and all points in between, I was a full blown hip-hop junkie, up on all the happenings of the industry. But even with my full blown habit, some things managed to slip pass me. One of those things was the west coast hip-hop pioneer and Compton based emcee, King Tee (sometimes spelled King T) and his whole catalog. I’m familiar with some of King Tee’s singles and his cameos on other rappers’ songs, and have always thought he was a decent emcee (and mentally I’ve always given him props for, at least partially, putting The Alkaholiks and Xzibit on), but for one reason or another, I never bought any of his albums back in the day. A few years ago while browsing the used cd bins at one of my favorite record stores (a pastime I’ve sorely missed during this quarantine), I came across a copy of King Tee’s fourth album, and his first release on MCA (his first three were released on Capitol Records), IV Life.

King Tee would call on his buddy Broadway, who I became familiar with from his production work on the short-lived group Mad Kap’s debut album (Remember them? Check out my review of their album here), to produce about half of IV Life, leaving the rest of the production to a few other special guests. Like the rest of his catalog, IV Life wasn’t a commercial success, but it did receive positive reviews from the critics and more importantly, love and respect from the streets.

I’ve already waited 25 years to listen to this album, so no need to keep delaying this any longer. Let’s jump right into it.

You Can’t See MeIV Life opens with the same 9th Creation loop that Black Moon used for their brilliant record “Slave” off the Enta Da Stage album, which immediately makes me curious to how King Tee is going to spit on it. But he doesn’t, and the loop fades out, quickly bleeding into a super laid back melodic instrumental (courtesy of Broadway and Mark Sparks) that our host uses to talk about guns, bitches, weed, drinking, cars and how nice he is on the mic. The song’s a bit too relaxed to open an album, but it’s still decent. More importantly, it uses a vocal snippet of Q-Tip’s verse from “Hot Sex”, so I can check off my Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post.

Super Nigga – Two thirds of the west coast production team, the Boogiemen (DJ Pooh, who will always be Red from Friday in my mind and Rashad) join King Tee on the mic, as they all take on the role of the hood superhero, Super Nigga. All three parties spit comically clever verses and Pooh and Rashad’s heroic instrumental is just as entertaining as their rhymes.

Duck – King Tee’s amped, fired up and in gangsta mode on this hard high-energy instrumental: “Yeah, bitch and that’s real, get the fuck up out the car and just peel, Yo punk I said break before I crash you in the grill, with the ass of my glock watch the blood spill, Gangstas got love for the nigga King Tee, just ask ’em who’s the great wait, watch ’em scream me, quick with the punch, rollin’ like Hutch, comin’ with the real shit, runnin’ with a bunch, of crazy niggas with wires, hammers and plyers, your money and blood plus the Daytons and tires”. The third member of the Alkaholiks, E-Swift drops in to add a few mediocre bars at the end of the song, but his mediocrity can’t derail the banger that this song is.

Dippin’ – This was the lead single from IV Life. Broadway hooks up a dope mid-tempo bop that Tela uses to paint the picture of a beautiful Sunday afternoon that he spends dippin’ through the streets of Southern California in his “trey” (which is short for six-trey, which is short for a 1964 Chevy Impala). I like the remix better, but this o.g. mix is dope in its own right.

3 Strikes Ya’ Out – Ultramagnetic MCs members, Moe Love and TR Love (the liner notes credit them as Big Moe X and T.R. Funk Ignitor) receive credit for this hard menacing instrumental. King Tee uses the dope backdrop to get conscious (“Three strikes you’re out, they’re makin’ niggas behave, no more slaps on the wrist gettin’ 90 days, welcome to the next level, it’s the new world order, snatch ya like a tractor, might kill ya for a quarter”) and mixes in a few boastful bars as well (“I got pages and pages, of metaphoric phrases, too complex, for the human eye to catch”). This one is a banger!

Down Ass Loc – Broadway hooks up a dope Grover Washington Jr loop (that reminds me of the loop Diamond D used for “A Day In The Life” off his Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop album) and turns it into a slick groove for our host to talk his “gangsta shit” on. King Tee’s gangsta talk sounds less menacing than say a NWA or The Game, but the song is still dope.

Free Style Ghetto – Someone named Thayad is credited for the mellow mid-tempo backdrop that King Tee and his Likwit crew (Xzibit, MC Breeze and J-Ro and Tash of the Alkaholiks) jump on for this cipher joint. The instrumental seems a bit too subdued for a posse record, but it’s still enjoyable, and all parties involved turn in solid performances with J-Ro and Tash shining the brightest.

Way Out There – I love the laidback jazzy vibes mixed with west coast smoothness on this track (brought to you courtesy of Da Mic Profesah with a co-production credit going to Broadway). King Tee handles it well, making this a pretty entertaining experience.

Let’s Get It On – Nikke Nicole gets the production credit for this one and spits the song’s final verse, while King Tee finds his pocket and flows nicely over the laidback bop that cleverly uses a line from the eighties/nineties era Soul Train theme song. Nikke Nicole shows double threat potential, holding her own on the boards and the mic (well, King Tee is credited for penning her bars, so take that for what it’s worth). This one makes for great midnight marauding music.

Check The Flow – This is easily my least favorite song on IV Life. The instrumental is lackluster, and neither King Tee or his guest, Sledge sound that impressive on the mic.

Advertisement – Broadway creates a tough bop with an infectious bass line that our host uses to boast about his material possessions, his dope music and give a quick middle finger to 2 Live Crew’s front man, Uncle Luke, as a rebuttal to Luke saying “Fuck Compton” on his 1993 dis record “Cowards In Compton”. King Tee sounds solid on this one, but Broadway’s instrumental work is brilliant.

Dippin’ (Remix) – King Tee saves the best for last, as Vic C puts a clean coat of breezy west coast swag on the track, turning it into the perfect music to listen to while dippin’ through the streets on a beautiful summer day, even if you don’t have a “trey”. The video for the single, which uses this remix, was pretty dope too.

On IV Life, King Tee blends gangsta raps, witty boasts, random west coast shit and a sprinkle of consciousness over enjoyable authentic west coast production with east coast sensibilities. IV Life is a damn near flawless album that’s definitely got me wanting to hunt down the rest King Tee’s catalog.

-Deedub

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Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (March 28, 1995)

By 1995, the Wu-Tang Clan was on top of the hip-hop world. After releasing their classic debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993, the crew members begin signing solo deals and releasing solo projects. First up would be Rza with the Gravediggaz debut project, 6 Feet Deep, followed by Method Man’s Tical, both released in ’94. Next up to bat would be the crew jester, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who would sign with Elektra and release his debut album Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. 

ODB would keep Rza at the helm to produce most of Return, with a few assists from some Wu-Affiliates. The album would become a commercial success (even though it took almost 25 years for it to be certified platinum) and received mostly positive reviews from the critics. The Source would include it on their 1998 list of 100 Best Rap Albums and it would also receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album in 1996. The artwork of ODB’s food stamp ID card is probably the funniest and most unique album cover in hip-hop history.

On November 13 2004, just two days before his 36th birthday, ODB collapsed at Rza’s recording studio in New York and was later pronounced dead. The official cause of death was an accidental drug overdose caused by a mixture of cocaine and prescription drugs.

This is the third rapper in my last 4 posts that died before the age of 40. Just a reminder how short life is, and that time is truly, illmatic.

IntroODB Mr. Russell Jones kicks off Return by introducing himself ODB to the show, the album and the listener. He also gives us a taste of his drunken singing and other antics.

Shimmy Shimmy Ya – This was the second single from Return. Rza lays down a simple piano loop and a loopy bass line that ODB uses to spit the same loony verse, twice. Not one of my favorite songs on the album, but it’s still decent.

Baby C’mon – Here’s another one I’ve never been crazy about, but it sounds better today than it did 25 years ago. Rza’s bangin’ bass line goes hard.

Brooklyn Zoo – This was the lead single from Return. ODB and True Master hook up a stuttering triumphant piano loop and turn it into a certified banger that our host uses to spew, arguably, his strongest bars on the album. This classic record will always be my favorite Ol’ Dirty Bastard song.

Hippa To Da Hoppa – See comments from “Baby C’mon”, minus the bangin’ bass line.

Raw Hide – ODB mixes a little bit of coo-coo with bat shit crazy on this one: “I wanna see blood, whether it’s period blood or bustin’ your fuckin’ face, some blood…Imagine gettin’ shot up with Ol’ Dirty insulin, you bound to catch AIDS or something…not sayin’ I got it, but if I got it, then you got it…what?!!!”. Our host also invites two of his Wu-Tang bredrin, Raekwon and Method Man, to join him, as they rock lovely over Rza’s ruggedly dark backdrop. Meth steals the show and shuts shit down with a slick closing verse delivered in his signature mesmerizing flow. This is an underrated Wu banger.

Damage – The Genius shows a more playful side, joining ODB on this duet, as the two pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato over one long verse. Rza and The 4th Disciple are credited for the light-hearted instrumental that works well behind the ODB and Gza’s antics. 

Don’t U Know – The song starts with a skit that has two females discussing ODB’s appearance. One of the ladies is repulsed by the “dirty muthafucka”, while the other one is obsessed by his “disposition” (The whole exchange cracks me up every time I listen to it). After that, Ol’ Dirty and Killah Priest get nasty, as they holla at the objects of their erections in search of some snatch over Rza’s grimy canvas. ODB caps off the horny festivities with a hi-larious spoken word piece about getting a blow job from his teacher. This one is wildly entertaining.

The Stomp – With an assist from Rza, ODB hooks up a bangin’ instrumental and wiles out all over it: “Brothers always playin’ with the microphone, when it blows up in your face *BOOM* you leave it alone, You couldn’t touch it, this style is too much, it’s the rhymer, I don’t give a crippled crab clutch, about any nigga or niggarette, get burnt to the brimecell like a cigarette”. Not a great song, but it’s a solid album cut.

Goin’ Down – The intro is pretty hi-larious, but everything else about this song is mediocre.

Drunk Game (Sweet Sugar Pie) – Ethan Ryman and ODB concoct a smooth r&b groove that our host uses to give us a taste of his singing chops and pays homage to some of the soul legends that came before him. This is dope in its own zany way.

Snakes – Killah Priest, Rza, Masta Killa (I always confuse Killah Priest and Masta Killa with each other) and Buddah Monk join ODB as they each spit verses about shady dudes who sliver like snakes in these streets. ODB starts his verse on topic, but gets side-tracked midway through his verse, and I have no idea what the hell Buddah Monk is talking about on the song’s final verse. But the true star of this one is Rza’s gritty soulful production, punctuated by a pulsating bass line.

Brooklyn Zoo II (Tiger Crane) – ODB recycles the verse he and Gza shared on “Damage” but spits it by himself this time. Ghostface Killah drops by and tacks on a decent second verse, followed by a quick medley of snippets from about half the songs on Return up to this point. Then Rza brings back the dull instrumental for our host to ramble over for a few more minutes. The song is followed by an interlude that catches an extremely intoxicated OBD at a live show comparing hip-hop to a “bitch” who gets caught cheating.

Proteck Ya Neck II The Zoo – Rza lays down a dark unsettling frantic-paced backdrop for our host, who invites Brooklyn Zu (Buddha Monk, Zu Keeper, Murdoc, 12′ O’Clock, Shorty Shitstain) and Sunz Of Man (Prodigal Sunn, Killah Priest, 60 Second Assassin) to join him on this high energy cipher joint. This record doesn’t come close to touching the dopeness of the classic part one, but its dope in its own right.

Cuttin’ Headz – Rza and ODB dust off an old demo they made when Wu-Tang was shopping for a group deal, which uses the same drunken Thelonious Monk piano loop that Rza would later use on Enter The Wu-Tang’s “Clan In Da Front”. Rza doesn’t sound as aggressive as he would later become and ODB sounds way more tamed then he was on Enter The Wu-Tang and the rest of this album, but they still display an undeniable chemistry and sound dope bouncing rhymes off of each other. The poor sound quality of this record actually gives it a dope grimy feel, which is what made Rza’s production so appealing in the nineties. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Return.

The cd version of Return To The 36 Chambers features the following two bonus tracks:

Dirty Dancin’ – Rza hooks up a dark banger for ODB to clown and spaz out on, while Method Man returns to lace the track with “Teflon lyrics that you can’t get through”. If you’re going to add bonus songs to your album, make sure they’re this entertaining, please.

Harlem World – Somebody going by the alias of Big Dore, hooks us a dope mid-tempo groove with an ill bass line for Return’s finale. ODB is not a great lyricist, but the dude finds his pocket and wrecks the shit out of this banger with his drunken-style: “Is it the pork on your fork, or the swine on our mind, make you rap against a brother with a weak ass rhyme? Swine on your mind, pork on your fork, make you imitate a brother in the state of New York, chain on your BRAIN, that drove you InSANE, when you tried to CLAIM, for the talent and the FAME, nothin’ to GAIN, yet and still you CAME, suffer the PAIN, as I demolish your NAME, not like Betty Crocker bakin’ cake in the ov, sayin’ this is dedicated to the one I love”. This is definitely one of the strongest songs on Return and a great way to end the album.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but an album’s cover can sometimes give you a good indication on what to expect from that album. Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version does just that, as ODB takes the listener on a bizarre ride through his twisted, tormented and heavily intoxicated mind, with Rza and friends batch of boom-bap beats serving as the rollercoaster. Every song on Return doesn’t work, but most of the production bangs and ODB’s outrageously animated “half-rapped, half-sung” style will keep you entertained.

-Deedub

 

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Big L – Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (March 28, 1995)

The first time I heard Big L spit was on Showbiz & A.G.’s D.I.T.C. cipher joint “Represent” from their debut album, Runaway Slave. Big L led the song off and held his own amongst his more seasoned crew members (i.e. Lord Finesse and A.G.), fitting right in with his clever metaphors and humorous punchlines. The East Harlem emcee, known for his polished freestyle ability, would become an official emcee of D.I.T.C. and soon earned himself a solo deal with Columbia, where he would release his debut album, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous.

Big L would call on some of his D.I.T.C. bredrin (Showbiz, Lord Finesse and Buckwild) to produce the majority of LODP&D. The album was a commercial failure, but received critical acclaim and some even consider it to be a classic. Sadly, it would be the only album Big L lived to see released, as he was gunned down in Harlem on February 15, 1999 (rip).

LODP&D is another album that I bought when it came out and haven’t listened to it in over twenty years. Let’s rejog my memory and revisit LODP&D together.

Put It On – The first song on LODP&D was also Big L’s first single. Buckwild provides a solid mid-tempo instrumental (which includes a cool xylophone loop) for Big L to showcase his wittiness and clever wordplay over, while Kid Capri drops in to add an energetic hook. It doesn’t sound as dope as it did back in ’95, but it’s still a decent record.

MVP – This was the second single released from LODP&D. A few months before the Trackmasters looped up Debarge’s “Stay With Me” for Biggie’s “One More Chance” remix, Lord Finesse would sample it for this song. Big L uses the mellow musical vibes to boast of his lyrical prowess and turns a dope Big Daddy Kane line into a clever hook.

No Endz, No Skinz – Well, the title pretty much sums up Big L’s message in a nutshell. Showbiz gets his first production credit of the evening as he slides our host a funky bass guitar loop to spit on and brings in a mellow jazzy break in between L’s verses. The hook is kind of corny, but the jazzy break is delectable enough to forgive that mishap.

8 Iz Enuff – Big L invites seven of his closes friends to join him on this cipher joint: Terra, Herb McGruff, Buddah Bless, Big Twan, Killa Kam (aka Cam’Ron from Dipset), Trooper J and Mike Boogie all spit verses alongside our gracious host. Buckwild’s dark unsettling instrumental suits the casts’ thug rhetoric, nicely. I wouldn’t call it a classic posse record, but it’s decent.

All Black – Finesse’s instrumental sounds like one of Showbiz’ “drab drums-boring bass line stock” beats he tends to hand out from time to time. Big L uses the ball of boredom to kill men, rape women, slay his mama and great granny, and occasional boast about his lyrical greatness. A few of L’s outlandish lines make me chuckle, but this song is barely decent.

Danger Zone – Wait. Did Buckwild jack Finesse’s instrumental from the previous song, add a little something here, take out something there and call it his own? Regardless, it’s just as boring as the former. Big L continues to spew violent threats and gets on some satanic shit as he denounces God, calls himself the devil’s son, kills nuns on Sundays and threatens to rape Christ? Wtf? I know it’s all said in jest and for shock value, but that shit aint nothing to play with.

Street Struck – Finesse redeems himself from the underwhelming “All Black” instrumental and creates this somberly melodic backdrop that Big L uses to warn the listener of the dangers that come with the street life: “I still chill with my peeps in the streets, but most of the time I’m in the crib writin’ rhymes to some dope beats, or either callin’ up some freaks to bone, but word up, I try to leave the streets alone, but it’s crazy hard kid, in other words, it’s spooky, the streets be callin’ me like the crack be callin Pookie, it aint a dumb joke, listen to this young folk, cause where I’m from you can choke from the gun smoke”. This is probably my favorite song on LODP&D.

Da Graveyard -I completely forgot Jay-Z made a cameo on LODP&D. Big L invites him, along with Lord Finesse, Microphone Nut (an early candidate for worst alias), Party Arty from Ghetto Dwellaz and Grand Daddy I.U. to join him on LODP&D‘s second cipher joint. Jay was clearly still a work in progress and far from the top-tier emcee he would soon become, but all parties involved turn in, at least, decent performances and navigate well around Buckwild’s dark and simple instrumental. Of course I have to crown a winner, and that would be Grand Daddy I.U., who steals the show with his potent closing verse.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous – Big L kicks some hi-larious lines on this one verse title track (i.e. “Breakin’ in cribs with a crowbar, I was po’ – I couldn’t afford the ‘or'”…”I told him “Give up the dough, before you get smoked, Oh you broke? *gunshots ring out* now you dead broke””…”Some say I’m ruthless, some say I’m grim, once a burglar broke into my house and I robbed him”), but Finesse’s instrumental sounds like a bunch of noise placed over a drum beat.

I Don’t Understand It – Showbiz’ instrumental sounds like a light-hearted version of “Chief Rocka”, only not nearly as dope. Big L uses the mediocre backdrop to question why wack emcees get on and why they take the opportunity for granted. This one could have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fed Up Wit The Bullshit – As the overly blunt an uncreative song title suggest, our host is fed u wit the bullshit. The bullshit in question is the treatment of young black men by the pigs police in the inner city: “Cause to me they aint nothin’ but harassers, that misuse their badges, to whip niggas asses, then one day they slow rolled through the hood, with they .38’s cocked, two deep up to no good, they say that my skin was black, so they attacked, threw me on my back and stuck a gat to my fuckin’ cap”. L’s also fed up with racist cab drivers and threatens to put a bullet through their windpipes during the song’s second verse. Finesse replays the bass line from The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets” and adds some jazzy horns and a Big Daddy Kane vocal sample during the refrain. It’s a decent instrumental, but too cheerful for Big L’s content.

Let ‘Em Have It “L” – The last song of the evening finds are host doing what he’s been doing pretty much the whole album: boasting about his lyrical prowess and threating to fuck niggas up: “The crown is still mine, cause I drop ill rhymes, a lot of rappers talk that murder shit and couldn’t kill time, one-two one-two, crews I run through, fuck karate, Big L practice gun-fu”. Craig Boogie (who gets the only production credit outside of the D.I.T.C. crew on LODP&D) hooks up a rough and dim instrumental that compliments Big L’s bars, nicely.

Big L is a competent emcee with witty metaphors and funny punchlines, but at times his flow sounds overly simplistic and his content on Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous quickly becomes redundant. Speaking of redundant, Buckwild, Showbiz and Lord Finesse fail Big L on the production side, as half the instrumentals sound the same and most of the music is just mediocre. I’m sure most readers will disagree with my synopsis, but Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous didn’t age well, it’s far from a classic and quite honestly, it’s a struggle to sit and listen to it from beginning to end. Feel free to stone me in the Comments, but listen to the album again before you do.

-Deedub

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Channel Live – Station Identification (March 21, 1995)

I don’t know a lot about the subject of today’s post, Channel Live. I do know that the East Orange, New Jersey duo consisting of Vincent “Tuffy” Morgan and Hakim Green, were discovered by the legendary BDP co-founder, KRS-One back in the nineties. With the teacher’s help, the students were able to secure a deal with Capitol Records where they would release their debut album, Station Identification.

KRS-One would produce about half of Station Identification, with Rheji Burrell and a young up and coming, Salaam Remi producing the other half. The album’s lead single (“Mad Izm”) made some noise on the hip-hop charts and gave the duo street cred, but the album wasn’t a commercial success.

I bought Station Identification on cd back in ’95 and haven’t listen to it since. The only thing I remember about the album are the singles. So without further ado, let’s revisit Station Identification, shall we?

Station Identification – The opening song and title track finds the New Jersey duo full of enthusiasm, flexing their intellectual stylings as they display some of their extensive vocabulary, wittiness and wordplay. KRS-One provides a decent instrumental for our hosts, although the sample of the woman harmonizing quickly becomes a bit annoying.

Channel 1 – Interlude that sets up the next song.

Lock It Up – Salaam Remi gets his first production credit of the evening and slides Channel Live a slick mid-tempo instrumental that they use to cleverly celebrate natural black hair: “As my dreadlock twist like a fist I got the punch, givin’ knots like my locks, I roll ’em up like blunts, twirled in the riddle, just bring the comprehension, I kick that real shit, not the wack extensions”. Well done, fellas.

Channel 2 – Interlude that sets up the next song.

What! (Cause And Effect) – Channel Live uses this one to call out rappers for their over usage of “nigga” and “bitch” in their rhymes. KRS hooks up a quality instrumental (built around the same Notations’ loop used for Big Daddy Kane’s “Dance With The Devil”) and our hosts do a solid job of getting their point across.

Mad Izm – This was the lead single from Station Identification and unanimously the biggest hit in Channel Live’s limited catalog. KRS-One joins his apprentices as they pass the mic like a blunt, while “puff, puff, passing”: “Wake up in the mornin’ got me yearnin’ for herb, which loosens up the nouns, metaphors and verbs, and adjectives, aint it magic kid, what I’m kickin’, multi-flavored bags of sess for the pickin'”. KRS-One is also responsible for the tough backdrop and adds a dope Buckshot vocal snippet to complete the song. Side note: Buckwild’s remix was pretty dope as well.

Reprogram – This one was decent enough, I guess.

Channel 3 – Interlude that sets up the next song, but this one is pretty funny.

Sex For The Sport – This was the second single released from Station Identification. Rheji Burrell builds a soothing groove around an O.C. Smith loop that Hakim and Tuffy use to cleverly compare sex to sports: “She’s beggin’ for my tongue to cease, so I halted, she wrestled me on the mat then up my pole she vaulted, gymnastic flips and other tricks is how my game is, I’m live when I dive into sex like Greg Louganis, I don’t come quick, sprints is not my meet, sex for the sport a gold medal athlete”. “Mad Izm” is Channel Live’s biggest hit, but this feel good bop is easily my favorite Channel Live song.

Channel 4 – By this point, I’m sure you can guess what this is and what it does.

Down Goes The Devil – Hakim and Tuffy are on their black militant shit for this one. KRS-One provides the semi-aggressive backdrop as the duo buck down their oppressors for all the pain and suffering they’ve cause the black man the past 400 plus years in North America: “They’ve been fucking us, and they’ve been crushing us, who stole 200 million from accounting? It wasn’t us, 400 years of murdering and pillage, is why you get my middle finger walkin’ through the village, why increase the peace while the beast increase the pressure? I’m tired of the lecture, the speech is gettin’ trifle, brothers killin’ brothers, time to redirect the rifle”. It would have been nice to hear the Teacher rejoin his students on this one, but it’s still a pretty dope record.

Build & Destroy – Channel Live digs back into their metaphor bag, as Tuffy kicks a verse comparing his rhymes to building and Hakim’s make reference to destroying. KRS-One builds (no pun intended) a solid mid-tempo instrumental to compliment the duo’s clever rhyme scheme.

Alpha & Omega – Salaam Remi gets his second production credit of the evening, and even though it’s not as dope as “Lock It Up”, it’s still decent. Hakim and Tuffy’s smart bars are up to par, even if the “crippling your rhyme style like Teddy Pendergrass” line was a bit insensitive.

Homicide Ride – Salaam Remi hooks up a slick mid-temp groove to escort Hakim and Tuffy on this homicide ride through your mind. Salaam’s instrumental is infectiously yummy, and my second favorite instrumental on the album, next to “Sex For The Sport”.

Who U Represent – The final song of the evening finds Channel Live giving props to the emcees they respect and were influenced by, which includes a shout out to A Tribe Called Quest during the first verse (Tribe Degrees of Separation: Check). KRS loops up The Isley Brothers’ “Groove With You”, which makes for an adequate instrumental for Station Identification’s finale.

If Station Identification were a television network, it would be PBS. It provides quality and smart programming, but compared to NBC, CBS and ABC’s line-ups, it’s just not as entertaining. Hakim and Tuffy are intelligent, clever and more than capable emcees, but they lack personality and never truly identify their station during the album. KRS-One, Salaam Remi and Rheji Burrell do a solid job on the production side, but in a year stacked with superior output, Station Identification easily gets lost in the shuffle.

-Deedub

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