Goodie Mob – Soul Food (November 7, 1995)

Homage must be paid to Outkast, whose 1994 debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’s critical acclaim and commercial success helped open the door for other Southern emcees and forced the rest of hip-hop to start to take the south serious, because, as 3 Stacks so eloquently put it at the 1995 Source Awards: “The south got something to say”. One of the beneficiaries of Outkast’s toil and labor would be their Dungeon Family brothers, Goodie Mob, who also had something to say. We first heard from the Atlanta-based foursome of Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo on Outkast’s debut, as they would all make cameos and eventually, they would also sign to LaFace Records, releasing their debut album, Soul Food, in November of ’95.

Just like their Outkast bredrin, Goodie Mob would call on Organized Noize to produce the entire album (with a little outside help, of course) and 3K and Big Boi would make cameo appearances on the album as well. Soul Food received positive reviews and Goodie Mob would follow in the commercial success of Outkast, as the album would earn the foursome a gold plaque.

I haven’t listen to Soul Food from beginning to end in a long time, so let’s see how it’s held up over the years.

FreeSoul Food opens with some bluesy chords that a stacked vocaled Cee-Lo uses to wearily sing from the pain deep in his soul, expressing his desire to experience true freedom. This may be the most heartfelt intro in hip-hop history.

Thought Process – Organized Noize creates an airy semi-sorrowful backdrop and each member of Goodie Mob gets a chance to share their feelings on the stress, drama and bullshit that comes with being a young black man in America. Cee-Lo gets off a stellar verse, and even out-rhymes his guest, Andre 3000 (granted, 3 Stacks was just entering his soul searching introspective stage and hadn’t fully completed his metamorphosis into the alien that would destroy every earthling instrumental thrown at him, but it’s still an impressive feat). This is one of my favorite Goodie Mob records and it has aged very well. Fine wine.

Red Dog – Short interlude to set up the next song…

Dirty South – Most of Goodie Mob sits this one out and Big Gipp is joined by Big Boi and Dungeon Family affiliate, Cool Breeze on this ode to drug dealing in the dirty south. I’m assuming, since 3 Stacks got a cameo on the previous song, GM felt they had to let Big Boi get a verse off as well; that is the only explanation I can come up with for them forcing his pimp-laden rhymes that have nothing to do with the subject at hand into this song. Regardless, the instrumental is hard, the hook is catchy and this song introduced me to one of the funniest slang terms of all-time, “Clampetts” (in reference to Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies): a term Goodie uses to call redneck white dudes.

Cell Therapy – I just found out going into this post that this was the first single from Soul Food, even though I don’t remember hearing it on the radio or ever seeing the video get played back in the day. Regardless, Goodie uses the semi-creepy backdrop to discuss conspiracy theories and The New World Order. Once again, Cee-Lo gets off the best verse, and the catchy hook brings some levity to help break up GM’s heavy content. All in all, this was dope.

Sesame Street – The Sesame Street that Goodie Mob’s talking about isn’t the same pure and innocent street that Big Bird and his crew sung cute songs about letters, words and numbers on. Instead, their Sesame Street is filled with memories (or nightmares) of the drugs, violence and poverty that framed their childhoods. With some help from a tasty Organized bop, our hosts take their pain and turn it into a dope song. I completely forgot about this one, but it was a pleasant reacquaintance.

Guess Who – Organized constructs an emotionally intense backdrop and each of the Mob members gets off a heartfelt verse of both fond and painful memories about their mamas. I’ve always loved this song, and it hits a little stronger since losing my own mother recently.  Rest in peace, Barbara Jean.

Serenity Prayer – It plays just as it reads: GM recites the serenity prayer in unisons.

Fighting – And the struggle continues: Over a bleak backwoods backdrop (it’s so deep in the woods that if you listen close enough you can actually hear crickets in the background of the instrumental) our hosts address the real struggle, which is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Check out Ephesians 6:12 for more); and of course they put their abstract southern twist on it. Speaking of struggle, the normally vocally on point songstress, Joi struggles to find her footing and sounds like she might be singing in the wrong key or maybe the out of key singing was all a part of the plan to play off the song title. At the end of the song, Cee-Lo admits he didn’t write a verse for this song and then pulls out his soapbox to preach a nearly two minute sermon calling for brothers to be accountable and take responsibility for their actions. He also reveals the semi-ridiculous acronym hidden within the name “Goodie Mob”. Cee-Lo makes some good points, but I’d much rather hear him singing and rapping than preaching. This song has too much substance to call it filler material, but the material presented wasn’t enough to fill me up.

Blood – Over mellow piano chords and subdued drums, Cee-Lo kicks a quick refrain calling for unity in the black community and an end to black on black violence. Goodie Mob would eventually turn this short interlude into a full-fledged song that would appear on the America Is Dying Slowly compilation album, released in 1996.

Live At The O.M.N.I. – OMNI has double meaning in this song: For you young bucks, The Omni Coliseum was the place the Atlanta Hawks called home up until 1997 ; the Goodie Mob, who are also from Atlanta, use it as an acronym for “One Million Niggas Inside”, which is their militant acknowledgement of unity and the power in numbers. This isn’t my favorite song on Soul Food, but it’s still a decent audible bop to chew on.

Goodie Bag – Organized builds this backdrop around a sexy guitar lick that Khujo, Big Gipp and T-Mo use to give us more substance, while Cee-Lo takes off his shirt and lets all his flab hang out, as he talks his shit and kicks a true freestyle at the end of his verse and still walks away with the strongest bars. This is easily one of my favorite songs on Soul Food.

Soul Food – This title track was also the lead single from the album. Our hosts go back and forth referencing the literal and figurative food that has fed their souls through the years over a deep southern fried funk Organized Noize groove. Undeniable classic.

Funeral -Short interlude that sets up the next song…

I Didn’t Ask To Come – Organized Noize places emotional strings over pulsating drums that Goodie Mob uses to discuss the seemingly never ending cycle of their homies being murdered in the Atlanta streets. The song is punctuated by the heartfelt hook that has the foursome contemplating their own mortality and wrestling with their frustration and anxiety with death (“I struggle and fight to stay alive, hoping that one day I’ve earned the chance to die…pallbearer to this one, pallbearer to that one, can’t seem to get a grip, cause my palms is sweatin'”), which includes another powerful verse from Cee-Lo. If this song doesn’t touch your soul, you might need to be checked for a pulse.

Rico -Short interlude to set up the next song…

The Coming – Goodie Mob invites their homeboy, Witch Doctor to chant the hook and add a verse along with theirs, as they collectively attempt to start the revolution over some funky instrumentation, driven by Colin Wolfe’s dense bass play.

Cee-Lo -Cee-Lo briefly talks about how God is working through cracker’s white folk’s evil deeds in order to…help black people?? I don’t quite agree (or understand) his theory, but at least he kept it short.

The Day After – The last song of the evening finds Goodie Mob discussing death and what comes after they’ve completed their journey here on earth. Much like our hosts’ content, Organized Noize’s instrumental sounds dark, sad, triumphant and beautiful all at the same time, while Cee-Lo and the guest female vocalist, Roni’s soul-touching-church-fueled singing on the hook are the glue that hold this song together. This makes for the perfect ending for an album packed with so much meaty material.

Soul Food lives up to its name, as Goodie Mob doesn’t waste any time with fluff or nonsense, but instead, they use every track to dish out a heapin’ helpin’ of substance and food for thought. It’s not an easy feat to feed a hip-hop audience this much consciousness for an entire album and make it sound entertaining, but Goodie Mob manages to pull it off with only a few visible scratches left on them. It’s clear from the jump that Cee-Lo is the Goodie that makes this Mob go, as his potent thought-provoking rhymes packaged in his colorful voice and delivery (and when you factor in his ability to bolt out soul-stirring notes, it’s no surprise that he would soon become the break out star of the team) keep this boat afloat, while the other three do a serviceable job patching in a hole he might have missed here or there. Organized Noize provides a quality batch of instrumentals rich in protein, calcium, minerals and calories that help Soul Food‘s meaty messages stick to your ribs and at the same time entertain.

-Deedub

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Genius/Gza – Liquid Swords (November 7, 1995)

During the mid-nineties, the Wu-Tang Clan could do no wrong. After releasing their classic 1993 debut album (Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), the group members decided to venture out and do solo and side projects: Rza would be the first, forming the horrorcore group, Gravediggaz, followed by Meth, Ol Dirty Bastard and Raekwon, who all released solo albums (well, OBFCL was more like a Rae/Ghostface collaborative effort, but you get where I’m going) that were not only critically acclaimed and respected by the streets, but also commercially successful as well. Next up to bat would be the Genius aka Gza.

This wouldn’t be Gza first go round, as he actually had a deal with Cold Chillin’ and released an album (Words From The Genius) way before the Wu-Tang experience would begin (you can read my thoughts on his first solo album here). After his solo album failed commercially, Gza would leave Cold Chillin’ and literally, regroup, along with the Rza (who also had a short-lived solo run with Tommy Boy), forming the Wu-Tang Clan, and the rest is history. Gza would try his solo luck again, this time with Geffen, releasing Liquid Swords almost to the date of Enter The Wu-Tang’s two year anniversary.

Like all the rest of the Wu-Tang’s solo projects before it, Rza would be at the helm sculpting the sonics of Liquid Swords, and it would also come with a heavy dose of pop-up cameos from the other clan members. Liquid Swords would go on to earn Gza a gold plaque (and nearly 20 years later it would get certified platinum) and many consider it to be the best solo album out of all the Wu-Tang Clan solo releases.

Let’s get into Liquid Swords and see how it’s held up over the past 25 years.

Liquid Swords – The album begins with a snippet from the 1980 Kung-Fu flick, Shogun Assassin (A movie I was finally able to watch on my Fire Stick this week. It’s not a great movie, and the “spraying blood” scenes are almost laughable, but it was still cool to watch, just to see where Rza got most of the interludes for this album from). Then Rza drops the nasty Willie Mitchell loop to create the backbone for this triumphant sounding backdrop that Gza meticulously picks a part with his precise rhymes: “I don’t waste ink, nigga, I think, I drop megaton bombs more faster than you blink, cause rhyme thoughts travel at a tremendous speed, do clouds of smoke of natural blends of weed”. Add
Rza and Gza’s catchy hook, and you’ve got a great opening track and a bonafide classic record.

Duel Of The Iron Mic – After another snippet from Shogun Assassin plays (which is supposed to set up this song), Rza brings the energy from the previous track down a few levels, as Gza is joined by Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck to take part in, what is supposed to be, a lyrical duel. Apparently, Gza didn’t tell his guests about the song’s concept, and they end up spittin’ random street tales instead of battle rhymes. ODB must have gotten the message, though, as he does a great job hyping up the duel that never happened during the hook. This wasn’t terrible, but it was a bit disappointing.

Living In The World Today – The song title is a bit misleading and might make you think this is a serious song that tackles the social ills of the inner city, but it doesn’t. It’s just Gza spittin’ more well-constructed bars (and I literally mean well-constructed…he actually uses “sheetrock to sound proof the beatbox”) over a dope Rza backdrop, while Meth drops in to spit a quick pre-verse and helps out with the overly wordy hook. Even with the hook being a bit much, this still made for an entertaining listen.

Gold – The song opens with a dope dealer (played by Meth) barking at his rivals and claiming his territory, before Rza drops his dusty banger (it starts with a few hiccups that he quickly cleans up) that Gza uses to paint a detailed picture of the drug game through the lens of the dealer. Genius doesn’t cover any new territory here (I mean, he had a song called “Life Of A Drug Dealer” on the Words From The Genius album), but he still manages to make it his own and keeps it entertaining.

Cold World – I believe this was the second single off Liquid Swords. It starts with another snippet from Shogun Assassin, then Rza’s weary-melancholic instrumental comes in and Gza and Inspectah Deck take turns sharing stories about the drugs and violence that destroy the inner city. Rza invites his homey, Life (who rips a portion Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love”) to sing the hook and he fails, miserably. I didn’t like this song back in the day and I’m still not crazy about it, but the instrumental is starting to grow on me, even though Life still sounds horrid on the hook.

Labels – Our host gets clever and puts together a whole verse referencing different record labels: “Tommy ain’t my muthafuckin’ boy, when you fake moves on a nigga you employ, We’ll all emerge off your set, now you know goddamn, I show livin’ large niggas how to flip a Def Jam.” Rza’s instrumental is simple, but potent, and it suits Gza’s song concept, well.

4th Chamber – Yep, you guessed it! Another Shogun Assassin snippet. Then Rza brings in some out of control synth chords, accompanied by vibrating guitar licks and steady drums that make for an epic banger. Ghostface goes first and gets off an entertaining opening verse (I love the line: “The kid holds white shit like blacks rock ashy legs”), followed by dope bars from Killah Priest, Rza and our poised host who closes things out with another well-written verse: “Woofers thump, tweeters hiss like air pumps, Rza shaved the track, niggas caught razor bumps, scarred trying to figure who invented, this unprecedented, opium-scented, dark-tinted”. From top to bottom, this was brilliant.

Shadowboxin’ – Speaking of brilliant: Meth drops by again, but this time he actually gets off a couple of verses, as he and Gza verbally spar over a funky and soulful little Rza diddley. Gza definitely has the stronger rhymes, but Meth, who has one of the best voices and flows in hip-hop history, wins in every other category, so I’m giving this one to Meth, and you can chalk this up as another great record on Liquid Swords.

Hell’s Wind Staff/Killah Hills10304 – The first half of this is a skit that finds the Rza negotiating a drug deal with a Mr. Greco, and ends with Rza alleging that Greco is an associate of the neighborhood snitch, Don Rodriguez. The second half features a bangin’ mid-tempo backdrop that Gza uses to spit one long verse about drugs, money, a wild middle eastern named Muhammad (who happens to specialize in putting bombs in champagne bottles), drugs, money, the Feds, bribes…did I mention drugs and money? I absolutely love Rza’s semi-zany partially orchestra-sounding instrumental, and “Hell’s Wind Staff” might be the illest name for a skit/interlude in hip-hop history.

Investigative Reports – Rza concocts a serious sounding symphonic soundscape (tongue twister muchers!), embedded with news excerpts in between verses, and Genius is joined by Raekwon and Ghostface on the mic, as they each get off a verse and share their analysis of the streets, while U-God is left to handle hook duties (Does a “Mocha toker” smoke coffee beans?). Ghost’s colorful stream of consciousness style is on full display, and he easily walks away victorious on this one. Yet another quality song on Liquid Swords impressive tracklist.

Swordsman – Gza uses this one to shit on denounce Christianity, promote 5 Percent Teachings, travels back in time and walks in the shoes of an African slave and scolds those who claim to be 5 percenters, but are really “lip professin’ ass niggas” who “can’t feed they own seeds” (I love that bar). Rza hooks up a roughly melodic loop and places it over clunky drums that all work well behind Gza’s lesson.

I Gotcha Back – This was the lead single from Liquid Swords that was originally released a year prior as the lead single for the Fresh Soundtrack (a movie I’ve still never seen). Gza shares commentary from the harsh streets of the hood over Rza’s dark and chilly backdrop, followed by one last Shogun Assassin soundbite. After 25 plus years, this one still sounds amazing.

B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth) – This was originally released as a bonus track on the CD version of Liquid Swords. 4th Disciple hooks up an emotional backdrop that Killah Priest uses to go dolo, as he discusses the bible, church, religion and truth. This makes for a meaty finale, but was a nice way to close Liquid Swords.

Gza may not be as colorful or animated as the Rza or Old Dirty Bastard; or as charismatic as Rae and Ghostface, and his voice may not be as distinguished or his flow as refined as Meth’s, but he is probably the sharpest lyricists in the Clan. That sharpness is on full display throughout Liquid Swords, as he shreds Rza’s dusty batch of bangin’ backdrops and gets some help from his fellow clansmen, who turn in some dynamic cameos (Liquid Swords is actually the first Wu solo album that all nine original Wu members make cameos on). There are a couple of songs on Liquid Swords that waiver a bit, and the album would probably benefit from a remixing and remastering, but as is, it’s still a damn near flawless album. And if it’s not the best Wu-solo album, in the most heterosexual way I can say this: it can definitely stand sword for sword with the best.

-Deedub

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Erick Sermon – Double Or Nothing (November 7, 1995)

I’ll get straight to the point, because life is short and time is valuable: Erick Sermon’s debut solo album, No Pressure, was a lukewarm mess. With three or four dope songs buried in a slew of mediocrity and trash (Sorry Sway, I know you hate the “T” word, but it is what it is), to call NP a disappointment would be an understatement. Regardless of how poorly the album performed, both commercially and critically, Def Jam would give the Green-eyed Bandit a second chance, as he would return in ’95 with his cleverly titled follow-up, Double Or Nothing.

Erick was pretty much single handily responsible for the dismal production on NP, so this time around he would call on a few helping hands to produce or co-produce about half of Double Or Nothing. The album would produce a couple of singles that made a little noise, and DON would climb to 35 on the Billboard Top 200 and 6 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. More importantly, it received much better reviews from the critics and a warmer reception from E’s fans.

I haven’t listen to Double Or Nothing in a hot minute, so this should be a fun refresher.

Intro (Skit) – Similar to NP, DON begins with E-Double being bombarded by the press, and one reporter is brave enough to tell him to his face that No Pressure was a “brick”, which means “a flop” for you young heads. Erick gracefully brushes the jerk reporter off with a slight chuckle and keeps things moving, right into the next song…

Bomdigi – This was the lead single from DON. E-Dub hooks up an upbeat backdrop (a co-productiion credit is given to Sugarless aka Ty Fyffe) with a little swing to it that he uses to have some fun, spittin’ freestyles rhymes (his line about being “more doper than Janet Jackson’s stomach” was weird, dope and grammatically incorrect, all at the same time). This wasn’t a great song, but it makes for a cool warm up for the rest of the evening.

Freak Out – Our host invites his Def Squad bredrin, Redman to join him on this duet, as the two take turns spittin’ fairly quality bars. Unfortunately, Rod “KP” Kirkpatrick’s instrumental (with a co-credit going to Erick) sounds like a bunch of unorganized unenjoyable noise.

In The Heat – This may be the dumbest song concept in the history of hip-hop. Erick rhymes from the perspective of his friend, Ooh Wop, who apparently overheard a guy and a girl talking shit about E-Double at a bar one night. Ooh Wop then takes it upon himself to wait for the couple to leave the bar where he confronts them, pistol whips the dude and threatens to strip him, blast him, extort him and…buy him (???) if he ever catches his now woozy victim mentioning E’s name again. Sounds more like what a lover would do to defend your honor than a homeboy. Terrible concept with a horrible ending and a boring beat.

Tell ‘Em – Our host cooks up a simple low-key groove (with some help from KP) and invites Keith Murray and Redman’s sister, Roz to join him on this cipher session. The song title and concept are loosely built around the closing bar from Keith’s impressive verse from “Hostile” that introduced Mr. Murray to the world. E kicks things off with some decent bars, Roz follows with a pretty impressive debut verse, and Keith finally shares the complete verse we first heard him spit pieces of on the “K. Murray Interlude” from Mary J’s classic My Life album, and he doesn’t disappoint. This is a dope record and one of the best cipher joints from ’95.

In The Studio – Erick Sermon’s sister (Kim) gets off a quick verse on this skit. For a minute I thought she was Hurricane G, but nope. She just happens to sound as mediocre as the former.

Boy Meets World – Rockwilder lays a melodically melancholic instrumental (and of course Erick is credited with lending a helping hand) that E-Double uses to boast, briefly get introspective and shouts out Tip and Phife in the song’s opening bars (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Speaking of ATCQ, Rockwilder’s instrumental is built around the same Crusaders sample that they used for the “Lyrics To Go (Tumblin’ Dice Remix)”. I could have done without Rockwilder’s random rambling at the end of the song, but that small mishap doesn’t distract from the serene vibes that the chill moody music creates.

Welcome – This was DON‘s second single. Erick drops filler rhymes with no real direction, while Keith hypes up the party with an energetic hook and Guy’s former lead man, Charlie Wilson Aaron Hall, fills in the gaps (no pun intended) with his gospel-esque vocal tone over a decent Rockwilder instrumental that sounds like it’s swimming underwater. I usually love Aaron’s voice, but it sounds wasted and kind of annoying on this track. That said, this was still a decent record.

Live In The Backyard (Skit) – This was mildly entertaining. E-Dub sings the blues on this skit, and he actually doesn’t sound that bad. Shout out to the late B.B. King.

Set It Off – I’m not feeling this one. And Keith Murray’s closing rant was beyond annoying.

Focus – This instrumental sounds more like the type of East Coast funk that Double Or Nothing would have benefited from. The Green-eyed bandit uses his rough backdrop to rep for New York, and even calls out his own coast for biting the left side: “Only West Coast was kickin’ that shootin’ cops, fuck that bitch shit, now we all on they dick, I represent “The Bridge Is Over”, “Eric B For President”, gettin’ “Raw”, Rockin’ Bells and “Raising Hell””. E-Double sounds rejuvenated and um, focused on this one. This was dope.

Move On – E-Double (with another co-credit going to Sugarless) hooks up a smooth-warm-feel good backdrop, and invites Redman and Passion to jump on this joint with him. Red gets first dibs and completely spazzes out with easily his strongest performance of the evening, while E and Passion are left to work with the microphone fragments that Reggie leaves behind, and they both still turn in solid verses. This is definitely one of my favorites from DON, and it sounds just as great as I remembered it.

Smooth Thought (Skit) – A short hood PSA that has absolutely no replay value.

Do Your Thing – Redman (with a co-credit going to Erick) hooks up an airy mid-tempo backdrop that finds the Green-eyed bandit in party mode and sharing the details of a night out on the town with his crew. The Aaron Hall vocal snippets laced throughout the song sound like they may have been leftovers from “Welcome”, but they sound great placed in this infectious groove.

Man Above – E-Double sets the mellow mood with this laidback jazzish bop with a bass line that’s perfectly thick, much like Ashanti’s golden well-sculpted thighs (yum). Speaking of Ashanti, E uses the dope backdrop to discuss his pursuit of beautiful ladies. Jazze Pha borrows and sings Snoop’s classic “Gin & Juice” line for the hook and it sounds perfect over Erick’s delectable instrumental.

The Message (Skit) – Tone Capone drops in to discuss “a lot of niggas out there that just be talkin’ for nothin'”, which is exactly what he does during this useless fifty second interlude.

Open Fire – Mr. Sermon invites his Def Squad cronies, Keith Murray and Redman, to join him on DON’s grand finale, and it ends up being anything but grand. All three emcees fail to impress with their verses and the barely audible instrumental sounds as dull as your grandma’s fifty year old knife set.

Sometimes a little help from friends can go a long way, and thanks to some of Erick’s buds helping out behind the boards and on the mic, Double Or Nothing ends up being a pretty enjoyable experience. Erick shies away from the hollow funk beats he tried to force down our throats for most of No Pressure and choses to go with a softer, melodic and airy sound for most of DON, with mostly positive results. The ebb and flow of E-Double’s rhymes are apparent throughout DON, as he sounds locked in at certain points (i.e. “Tell ‘Em”, “Boy Meets World”, “Focus” and “Move On”) and like he’s just trying to make it through at other moments (“Bomdigi”, “In The Heat”, “Welcome” and “Open Fire”), while his Def Squad crew are hit and miss as well (speaking of hit and miss, it just dawned on me (no pun intended) that Jamal didn’t make any cameos on DON…hmmm). DON doesn’t have any real cohesion, but instead sounds like a bunch of songs thrown together on one album. Fortunately, most of the songs work and DON fares much better than the debacle that was No Pressure. 

-Deedub

 

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Cypress Hill – III: Temples Of Boom (October 31, 1995)

I want to start this post off by saying rest in peace to MF Doom and Double K from People Under The Stairs. Thank you both for your contributions to this genre that we all love. 

By 1995, the Los Angeles-based trio, Cypress Hill were bona fide rap stars. With two multi-platinum albums under their belts and a few legitimate cross-over hits, Cypress Hill was able to find commercial success while staying true to themselves with their patented brand of “weed-smokin’-gun-totin’ hip-hop, punctuated by DJ Muggs’ blunted beats. The trio would return in 1995 with their third release, fittingly titled: III: Temples Of Boom.

On III, Cypress Hill would stick with the formula that worked for them the first few go rounds: Muggs blunted production as the foundation for B-Real’s gangsta raps and Sen Dog’s occasional appearances, while heavily advocating the legalization of marijuana, and smoking it…heavily. The results? Their third consecutive platinum selling album. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

If you read my blog on a regular basis, you already know I wasn’t crazy about either of Cypress Hill’s first two albums (you can read my thoughts on both of them here and here). Both albums had some dope shit on them, but they contradicted Aristotle’s theory, because the whole was not greater than the sum of its parts on either album, but I’m sure I’m in the minority with that opinion. Let’s get into the album and see if the third time is truly a charm.

By the way, I love the album cover artwork. It’s very fitting for an album that was released 25 years ago on Halloween.

Spark Another OwlIII opens with Sen Dog sharing a few words about the power of marijuana, which is followed by, what sounds like stereotypical monk temple-esque music playing, while Cypress puffs and chokes in the background. Then you hear the sound of Muggs’ slow rolling dusty drums and a super warm and relaxing loop that makes you feel like you’re floating on a cloud. B-Real warms up for the evening, getting off a quick verse about his love affair with Mary Jane, and he takes claim to making smoking weed a popular topic in hip-hop, as he spits: “Up until the summer of ’91, wasn’t no muthafuckas talkin’ ’bout smokin’ blunts”, which is a legitimate point. The song ends with Sen Dog getting a hard on, as he lists off a bunch of different weed strands. This was dope (no pun intended).

Throw Your Sets In The Air – After a short skit that features an exchange between O.G. Showtime and a wannabe gangsta, who eventually gets his ass kicked as a form of initiation into Showtime’s gang, Muggs hits us with more of his cough-provoking drums mixed with a haunting vocal loop and some horror movie-type synth chords that create the dark backdrop that B-Real uses to set trip all over. This was the lead single from III, and it still bangs just as hard as it did in ’95.

Stoned Raiders – After a short snippet from The Exorcist plays, Muggs drops what might be the most beautiful sample ever used in a hip-hop song. It’s so beautiful it almost moves me to tears every time I hear it, and I’m not exaggerating. I imagine this is what you hear when your soul leaves your body and begins its journey to heaven’s gates. Eventually, drums drop underneath the celestial loop and B-Real comes in to talk his shit, and his nasally flow sounds great over Muggs brilliant backdrop.

Illusions – This was the second single from III. B-Real’s apparently suffering from some form of mental illness or his weed was laced with some bad shit; either way, my man’s hallucinating. I literally laugh every time I hear B-Real’s opening line: “Some people tell me that I need help, some people need to fuck off and go to hell”. Muggs’ subdued grimy instrumental works well underneath B’s content.

Killa Hill Niggas – After a short dark and mystical instrumental interlude, Rza gets the only outsourced production credit on III. He hooks up a solid Shaolin-flavored bop for this Cypress/Wu-Tang collab that he, B-Real and U-God (which sounds like a random choice out of all the Wu-Tang members) use to take turns wielding their lyrical swords, breaking up the verses with Spanish rants from a Captain Pingaloca. I didn’t find this one spectacular, but it makes for a solid record.

Boom Biddy Bye Bye – Sen Dog spits his first verse of the evening, as he joins B-Real in rockin’ some poor chap to sleep…permanently. Muggs pairs a pretty xylophone loop with a deep bass line and dusty drums that contradict the duo’s violent verses, but they sound great together.

No Rest For The Wicked – As the story goes (according to B-Real): Cypress Hill invited Ice Cube to the studio to hear a song they made for the Friday Soundtrack (“Roll It Up, Light It Up, Smoke It Up”), and after letting him hear the song, they decided to also play a few songs from their upcoming album, with “Throw Your Sets In The Air” being one of them. B-Real said that Cube really liked the song and wanted it for the soundtrack, but Cypress’ label (Ruffhouse/Columbia) didn’t want the song on the soundtrack because they wanted to use it to push Cypress’ new album. So when Cypress finally heard Cube’s song “Friday”, which curiously have a similar hook to “Throw Your Sets In The Air”, they felt he stole their shit. This song would be the first shot fired in the feud between Cypress Hill and Ice Cube. B-Real lands a couple of decent jabs on this one, but not enough potent blows to score a knockout. After the song ends, Cypress tacks on an instrumental interlude that features an enchanted piano loop and a haunting female vocal sample. It probably would have made more sense to have this interlude stand alone, but whatever.

Make A Move – This one starts with a classic scene from one of my favorite movies, Pulp Fiction. After Jules gets off his scripture reading and gun fire, Muggs’ dense bassline and cool drums drop, as B-Real and Sen Dog share their brand of gangsta battle raps. This song sounds like a leftover from the Black Sunday sessions, but I still enjoyed its bluntedness.

Killafornia – I love the mixture of melodic and dark vibes in this instrumental. B-Real doesn’t really cover any new territory with this one, but his nasally vocal sounds great paired with it.

Funk Freakers – After a brief temple music interlude, B-Real and Sen Dog use Muggs’ cool airy backdrop to stake their claim as the supreme funk freakers in the game (I guess I wasn’t aware that was a highly-sought after title). This was short, sweet and entertaining.

Locotes – “Locotes” is Spanish for an “insane person”. That is the role Real and Sen Dog play on this one, as the two share a tale about a night filled with jacks and robberies that leaves the duo on the run from the pigs cops, before the story ends with an interesting plot twist. B-Real and Sen Dog aren’t the greatest storytellers, but this song was decent enough.

Red Light Visions – Over a chilly piano loop and snappy drums, B-Real gets off a quick verse chock-full of threats to, as they said in the nineties, “peel a buster’s cap back”, while Sen Dog co-signs for his partner in rhyme.

Strictly Hip-Hop – Muggs lays a drowsy backdrop that B-Real uses to call out rappers that CH deems as sellouts, and this list includes: those who model clothing, make Sprite commercials or rap on r&b songs. Boy, has the standard of “keepin’ it real” changed since the nineties, and probably for the better. B-Real (and Muggs in between verses) takes shots at House Of Pain and calls out the writer, James Bernard, who apparently started to shit on the trio in The Source after the two parties had a disagreement.  This was mildly interesting, mainly because I wanted to know who the “Cindy Crawford ass muthafucka” is that Muggs calls out at the beginning of the song, but I quickly lost interest once his instrumental begin to put me to sleep.

Let It Rain – B-Real continues to dish out verbal lead showers (including another shot fired at James Bernard) over another bluntedly bangin’ Muggs’ production. Nuff said.

Everybody Must Get Stoned – Our hosts close out the album (well, technically the proper album ended with “Let It Rain” and this is considered a bonus track) with a mellow and melodic backdrop that they use to celebrate and advocate smoking cheeba, aka cannabis, aka marijuana, you know, weed, fool. This was a very pleasant and fitting way to close out III…unless you have the Japanese pressing of the album, which has another bonus cut: “Smugglers Blues”. I’ve never heard it, but I’m sure it’s readily available out there on the world wide web if you’d like to give it a listen.

Musically, III definitely has a mellower vibe than Cypress Hill’s two previous releases, but the chill vibes don’t affect B-Real’s content. Like the first two albums, our nasally host uses the entire album to issue out death threats and bodily harm, while puffing and praising Mary J. Even with the monotonous content, the trio from the Hill manage to make III a quality and entertaining listen, as both B-Real and Sen Dog’s unique vocal tones sound great over Muggs dusty-blunted brand of production. III may not have the big hits the first two albums had, but pound for pound it’s a better body of work than the former two.

-Deedub

 

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Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food (October 31, 1995)

The Chronic and Doggystyle (and I’ll throw the Above The Rim Soundtrack in there too) laid a solid multi-platinum foundation for the legendary and notorious label, Death Row Records. Dr. Dre’s crispy clean G-Funk bangers paired with a bunch of young hungry emcees, led by Snoop Dogg’s infectious nasally flow and an industry bully in its CEO (Suge Knight), made Death Row a force to be reckoned with in the mid-nineties. Of course we all know about the drama that would soon come, causing Dre to leave, then Snoop, and the DR Empire quickly crumbled before our eyes…but that’s a story for another day. Next up to represent for Death Row would be Kurupt and Daz, together known as Tha Dogg Pound, with their debut album, Dogg Food.

Both Kurupt and Daz made cameos on The Chronic and Doggystyle, giving us a taste of their style, but Dogg Food would allow the duo to give the world a full dose of their sound. Daz would produce the majority of Dogg Food (with Dr. Dre mixing the whole album) for he and his Philly born, Cali-transplant partner, Kurupt to spit on with a little help from a few of their Death Row friends. Dogg Food would produce two buzz worthy singles, climb to number 1 on the Billboard Top 200, go double platinum, and earn DP a heapin’ helpin’ of critical acclaim.

I’ve heard the term “classic” tossed around with Dogg Food, but of course, like what feels like my last seven out of ten posts, I’ve never heard the album before today, so I wouldn’t be able to concur or disagree with that assessment. But for the next few weeks I vow to dig deep into the album and dissect every nook and cranny of Dogg Food hoping to share my truest thoughts and deepest feelings about this Death Row release from the long gone G-Funk era.

Yeah, that last sentence was a bit over the top. Let’s just jump into this review, please.

Intro – Quick intro that could have easily just been combined with the next track, but whatever.

Dogg Pound Gangstaz – Daz combines poppin’ drums with sinister synth chords, which makes for a bangin’ opening instrumental for him and Kurupt to spit over, and Kurupt wastes no time ripping this shit to shreds, and takes a direct shot at Eazy-E and his protégés, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in the process. Daz adds a decent second verse, and this works out to be a solid opening statement from DPG. The song ends with Snoop adlibs, co-signing for his DPG bredrin, followed by a skit that features The Megatron Max DJ from the reoccurring fictitious radio station WBALLS, taking a few calls from some colorful callers.

Respect – We’ve heard several different variations of the “Atomic Dog” riff that Daz uses for this backdrop (with most of them coming from the mind and hands of Dr. Dre, who also happens to open this song with a short adlib), but his interpretation of it still sounds funky as hell. Kurupt continues to sound amazing and Daz tip toes with precision over his dope backdrop.

New York, New York – This was the lead single from Dogg Food. Red DJ Pooh gets the first of his two production credits, as he hooks up a slow rolling head-nodding bop (that’s very suitable for midnight marauding) that Kurupt completely annihilates. Of course this song would also be more gas on the fire in the feud between the two coasts, after the song’s video had Giant versions of DPG and Snoop kicking over buildings in New York (by the way, Kurupt claims the song originally wasn’t a dis to New York, but a homage, until they got shot at when making the video in New York that was allegedly ordered by Biggie. I don’t know what their original intention was with this song, but it sure does sound like Kurupt is mocking New York lingo, when he hi-lariously opens the song using terms like “Yo, Money” and “What’s up, God?”). This would go on to be the biggest hit in the duo’s catalog and a classic record that still sounds amazing today. Side note: This instrumental was originally used for Biggie’s St. Ides commercial that came out earlier in ’95.

Smooth – DJ EZ Dick from WBALLS (played by the late Ricky Harris) open this one with a few words (and closes it out with a few more and takes a couple of phone calls). Then DJ Pooh lays a basic, but still funky, instrumental for Snoop and Kurupt to rhyme over, as Daz sits this one out (I guess he doesn’t like rhyming over Pooh’s production). Snoop mails in his verse, while Kurupt continues to impress and should be arrested for assault and battery for how he brutalizes the mic and beat on this one.

Cyco-Lic-No – I absolutely love the vibes and cool energy that Daz’s slick instrumental gives off, as he and Kurupt’s synergy continues to entertain. Mr. Malik (formerly one-half of the juvenile duo, Illegal) makes a guest appearance and spits a pretty decent verse to wrap up the song (his flow definitely sounds more polished than his old partner Jamal’s did at this point), while Snoop adds a nonsensical hook that ends up being pretty catchy. This was fire.

Ridin’, Slipin’ And Slidin’ – I would have been perfectly fine if I never heard this song in my lifetime.

Big Pimpin 2 – Part one of this song was on the Above The Rim Soundtrack. Daz recycles his instrumental from the original and lets Big Pimpin Delemond go dolo, as he shares a poem about players, hustlers, pimps and whores. I could have done without this one, but Daz’s backdrop (which would make for the perfect theme music for Snoop’s Corona commercials) was enjoyable.

Let’s Play House – This was the second single from Dogg Food. Daz and Kurupt get ghetto romantic as they invite the objects of their erections to play house, while Michel’le and Nate Dogg join in on the fun, adding some R&B notes to the groove. This one still sounds great.

I Don’t Like To Dream About Gettin’ Paid – Daz takes a cool jazzish Lionel Richie loop and turns it into a melancholy instrumental that he uses to recall the days before he became a rapper and was hustling in the streets. After Daz gets off two solid verses, for some reason they felt it was necessary for Kurupt to tack on a half-ass verse. There’s no doubt that Kurupt is a lyrical beast, but his verse on this one rings hollow and this would have worked better as a Daz solo joint. That said, I still liked the song’s somber vibes and Nate Dogg’s signature crooning is always welcomed.

Do What I Feel – DPG invites the Lady of Rage to the party and she steals the show from her hosts, as she spits a stellar verse displaying her chiseled flow and slick wordplay. She sounds super comfortable and confident over Daz’s slick groove, and probably could have rapped another thousand bars had they not rudely abruptly cut her off. Regardless, this was fire.

If We All Fuc – Snoop returns, once again, to join his DPG bredrin for some very mediocre misogyny.

Some Bomb Azz Pussy – Kurupt opens the song bustin’ a nut inside of *insert song title*. Then Daz drops a deep dark hypnotic bass line with smooth drums laid underneath it, as Snoop joins the duo on this ode to *insert song title*. Snoop gets off what may be, the funniest adlib in hip-hop history, when he says “I smell it, can I inhale it? Let you tell it, I know you got some bomb ass pussy” (me writing the adlib doesn’t do justice to how funny it sounds in real time). Hey, if you’re going to make misogynistic music, at least make it funky and entertaining like this.

A Doggz Day Afternoon – Daz cooks up a raw instrumental that a hungry Kurupt consumes like Garfield does a plate of lasagna. Daz raps on it too, and Nate Dogg even kicks a rare rhyme (his eight bars are followed up with a line from Snoop to close the song), but Kurupt is easily the star of this one.

Reality – Daz and Kurupt invite their homie, Tray Deee to join in on the discussion of the ever present dangers that come with living in the hood. All three participants spit quality bars over Daz’ somberish backdrop, but none of them sound authentic. An introspective 2pac verse would have sounded great over this beat.

One By One – Daz lays another funky gangsta bop that he sounds decent over and Kurupt sounds fantastic on. That’s all I got.

Sooo Much Style – Tha Dogg Pound closes out Dogg Food with a mellow backdrop that they use to boast, talk their shit and brag about how much style they have. They both turn in serviceable verses, but I really enjoyed the melodic chords in the instrumental. It makes for the perfect soundtrack for a cloudy day.

Going into Dogg Food I was expecting to hear about a whole lot of guns, gangsta shit and misogyny, you know, like most of The Chronic and Doggystyle. There is a little bit of all three on the album, but Tha Dogg Pound spends most of their time on some emcee shit, proving to both coasts and every point in between that they belong in this here game we call hip-hop. Kurupt pretty much murders every track he spits one with his smooth flow and slick wordplay, while Daz proves to be a competent B mic, laying down a quality batch of clean G-funk grooves to keep your head bobbin’ for most of the album. Like most albums, Dogg Food comes with a few shortcomings, but overall, it’s a great debut from this often overlooked Death Row duo.

-Deedub

 

 

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Fat Joe – Jealous One’s Envy (October 24, 1995)

Through the years, Fat Joe has carved out a path for himself in hip-hop, and somehow has managed to stay relevant in the genre for nearly thirty years now. Arguably the weakest link in the DITC chain of talented emcees and producers, he’s easily had the most commercially successful career and the most longevity out of the collective, but after listening to his 1993 debut album, Represent, no one would have predicted that. Thanks largely (no pun intended) to his DITC bredrin’s quality production, Represent was a solid listen, but Sloppy Joe was definitely a little green on the mic and light on the lyrical side. Despite the album’s poor numbers and reviews, Joe would return two years later with his sophomore effort, Jealous One’s Envy.

For Jealous One’s Envy (which is also an acronym for “JOE”), Joe would rely less on his DITC family for production and call on mostly outside parties to provide the soundscape for the album. Jealous One’s Envy would peak at number 7 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and 71 on the Billboard Top 200, and received solid reviews from the critics.

Jealous One’s Envy is yet another album that I didn’t check for back in the day. Based on Joe’s debut and all the other fire releases that ’95 gave us, this one wasn’t a priority. I bought Jealous One’s Envy used for a dollar a few years ago at one of the spots I frequent and this is my first time listening to it. Let’s see if Fat Joseph builds on what he did his first go round.

Bronx TaleJOE opens with some dark mystic boom-bap shit (courtesy of Diamond D) that Fat Joe and the legendary KRS-One use to play hot potato with the mic. The Teacher’s presence must have lit a fire under Joe’s ass and pen, as his verses sounds ten times better than anything he spit on Represent. Speaking of represent, after nearly ten years in the game, KRS-One still sounds razor sharp on the mic being the “Ultimate, uttering ultimatums for the fun it”. This was a fire way to kick off the evening.

Success – Apparently this was one of the singles released from JOE. Domingo builds the somber backdrop around dark piano chords for this street hustler’s anthem that Joe dedicates to “everybody gettin’ money.” Joe continues to display his much improved rhyming as he rides this mid-tempo groove with confidence, delivering solid bars in the process. The instrumental is fire, and somehow the wordy superficial hook ends up being catchy and works well over the dope head-nod inducing backdrop.

Envy – Joe starts off the song reminiscing about his dysfunctional upbringing and surviving the notoriously tough streets of The Bronx: “Life’s trife and then you die, nobody dies of old age, but in the hands of another guy, that’s why, I keeps an alibi, Giuliani wants to see a brother fry!”. Then on the final verse he celebrates his rise to success, telling his “Momma look at me now, got a house in Long Ile (Island), for my spouse and my child”, while he jingles “Jewels in the face of past enemies” and hi-lariously tells them to “eat your heart out, son, you never was a friend of me”. L.E.S. (staying true to what I said about his production-style on my 4, 5, 6 write up) loops up Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” for the backdrop, and like most of his early instrumentals built around eighties R&B hits, it slaps, even if it’s an obvious sample choice and borderline lazy. The uncredited female vocalist on the hook and adlibs sprinkles a little extra flavor on the track as well.

Gangbanging Interlude – Joe plays a snippet from the 1979 cult classic film about New York gangs, The Warriors. Can you dig it? Can you dig it? Caaan yoooou dig iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit?!!!!!!!!

Fat Joe’s In Town – Joe uses this one to boast about his street pedigree and brag about how nice he is on the mic. And even though it was a bit comical to hear him try to force “Russell Simmons” to rhyme with “millions” (hey, on paper it looks like it might work), Joe still does a decent job mastering the ceremony. L.E.S. temporarily, steps away from his obvious eighties R&B sampling and digs a little deeper into the crates for a more obscure loop that conjures up the unsettling vibes of “Flow Joe”, which is also the energy Joe’s rhymes give off, just more refined. This was dope, and the Raphael Saadiq vocal snippet on the hook was a nice added touch.

Part Deux – On this one Joe sounds determined to show and prove to all naysayers and doubters that he’s a lyrical emcee. He handles Domingo’s hard backdrop fairly well, but I’m still not willing to put him anywhere near my top tier list.

King NY – A short interlude that uses a snippet from The 1990 Mafia-inspired movie, King Of New York, hence the song title

The Shit Is Real (DJ Premier Remix) – The O.G. version of this song was on Joe’s debut album Represent and this remix was used for the video version of the single. Premo laces Joe’s grimy street rhymes with a beautifully melodic backdrop built around an ill xylophone loop. This is one of my favorite Premo joints, and it still sounds as amazing as it did twenty-five years ago.

Fat Joe’s Way – This minute long interlude finds Joe rambling on in Spanish, while his crew listens, laughs and occasionally chimes in over relaxing middle-easternish chords.

Respect Mine – Raekwon kicks the song off rambling on about nothing and re-emerges on the hook to recite a snippet from his classic verse from “C.R.E.A.M.”. Joe turns in a decent performance and Joe Fatal’s instrumental is respectable (no pun intended), but something is missing from this one, and it ultimately falls flat.

Watch Out – Fat Joe plays facilitator on this one, as he handles the introductions and hook, while three of his Full Eclipse Camp members: Armageddon, Keith Nut and the late great, Big Pun get a chance to showcase their talent, or lack of. First things first, I’m so glad Joe decided to dump the Full Eclipse Camp name and use Terror Squad instead. Pun makes his debut on this one and gives us a serviceable verse, but far from as potent as his flow and bars would soon become. Armageddon and the pedophile, Keith Nut (who’s line about kidnapping kids, molesting them and sending them back home in bandages is repulsive and takes the whole “shock value rhymes” trend too far) sound terrible and should have been dumped from the squad along with the old crew name. Diamond D turns in a horrible instrumental, which completes one of the worst posse cuts in the history of hip-hop.

Say Word – Domingo turns a slick Bootsy Collins’ loop into a smooth groove that, an always intense, Fat Joe uses to spew more hardcore street rhymes over. The hook was trash, but overall this was a decent record.

Success (DJ Premier Remix) – I love me some Premo, but this dull remix ain’t touchin’ the beauty that the O.G version blessed us with.

Dedication – Joe borrows a loop from Tyrone Davis’ “In The Mood” (that both MC Eiht (“All For The Money”) and the Beatnuts (“Lick The Pussy”) used prior) to help create the smooth backdrop that he uses to rap his shout outs over. This was cool.

Bronx Keeps Creating It – Fat Joseph wraps up JOE talkin’ more of his shit over a dope mid-tempo Joe Fatal backdrop built around an ill David Axelrod loop (that both Lil Wayne and Royce Da 5’9 would later rap over). Fatal’s instrumental has a regal feel to it that makes a confident Fat Joe sound triumphant rapping over it.

It sounds like Fat Joe used the time in between Represent and Jealous One’s Envy to study some of the great New York lyricists that emerged in New York during that time frame (i.e. Nas, AZ, Wu-Tang Clan and Prodigy), as his flow sounds more polished and controlled, and lyrically, he sounds like a new man. For the most part, the production by committee method works on JOE, with the handful of beatsmiths, collectively providing a quality batch of mid-nineties east coast-flavored backdrops that Fat Joe uses to spit street shit on and most of it entertains or at minimum, will hold your attention. Thank God for second chances.

-Deedub

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Onyx – All We Got Iz Us (October 10, 1995)

In 1993 Onyx made a lasting first impression with their high-energy animated hardcore style that would arguably go on to be copy catted just as much as Das EFX’s stuttering style the year prior. The hyper-energetic four man crew out of Queens, led by the witty raspy-voiced Sticky Fingaz, crafted a quality debut album in Bacdafucup (you can read my thoughts on that album here) that would go on to achieve commercial success and a platinum plaque, thanks largely to their crossover platinum selling single “Slam” that you can still hear on somebody’s throwback mix on any given weekday around the globe. In ’95 the grimy gang would return with their sophomore effort, All We Got Iz Us.

The four man crew would become a three man team, as the late Big DS (who had a limited role on the debut album due to his legal issues) would leave the group after Bacdafucup. Also missing from AWGIU are Chyskillz and Jam Master J (rip to both of them), who were responsible for most of the production on the first album (Jam Master Jay does get an executive producer credit, but so did Nas’ 6 year old daughter for Stillmatic. My point? Executive Producer credits don’t mean shit.). Instead, Fredro Starr (with a few co-production credits going to his Onyx bredrin and 8-Off Assassin aka Agallah) is credited with producing the bulk of AWGIU, even though there are several rumors that 8-Off Assassin was really responsible for most of the production work on the album. AWGIU would not be nearly as commercially successful as its predecessor and received average reviews upon its release.

How would Onyx fair with their new formula on All We Got Iz Us? Let’s get into it now.

Side note: Fredro shouts out A Tribe Called Quest in the liner notes, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post. Okay, now we can get into it.

Life Or Death (Skit)AWGIU opens with a dark distorted bass line and Sticky Fingaz screaming over it trying to punk convince some random dude to commit suicide, and based on the gun shot that rings out, it sounds like he’s successful. This sets the dark mood that would remain for the rest of the evening.

Last Dayz – This was the second single from AWGIU and the instrumental will always be remember as the backing music for the epic second round battle between Lotto and B. Rabbit in 8 Mile. Fredro hooks up a chilling Earl Klugh bass line (that reeks of emanate danger) mixed with an eerie horn loop and a soulfully haunting Aretha Franklin vocal sample, all placed over scarce drums that culminate into one of the most cold and callous instrumentals I’ve ever heard, and I absolutely love it. Onyx matches the backdrop’s energy every step of the way, with Sticky Fingaz stealing the show (which quickly becomes the norm throughout AWGIU) with a brilliant heartfelt verse full of hopelessness: “Thinkin’ about takin’ my own life, I might as well, except they might not sell weed in hell, and that’s where I’m going, cause the devil’s inside of me, he make me rob from my own nationality, that’s kind of ignorant, but yo, I gotta pay the rent, so, yeah, I’ll stick a nigga, most definite”. This is not Onyx’s biggest hit (that will always go to “Slam”), but this evil masterpiece is definitely the best song in their catalog and the instrumental is a worthy candidate for top ten of all time.

All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets) – Onyx continues to build on the dark mood with this one. Fredro’s instrumental might now sound as cold as the previous track, but its sinister vibes are in the same vein, as the trio share hood commentary and pledge to stay together as they move through these evil street.

Purse Snatchaz – As the song title suggest, our hosts use this one to discuss all the criminal activity that goes on in the inner city that they don’t only endorse, but also claim to participate in as well. The sorrowful backdrop, drenched in misery, coupled with Greg Valentine’s (one-half of the group All City) wearily desperate notes on the hook, make Onyx’s cold rhymes believable and makes for another brilliantly bleak song.

Shout – Naturally, our hosts would turn up the energy and their volume levels for a song called “Shout”. Bass guitarist (and decorated music producer/mixer), Rich Keller provides a monster bass line (that’s guaranteed to make you screw your face while you nod your head) to go with Fredro’s slick up tempo instrumental, as the three man crew spaz out all over the track, with Sticky walking away with yet another one. This banger lightens the dim mood a little bit and also completes what may be the most intense four song combo to start any hip-hop album.

I Murder U (Skit) – Short interlude that loops Fredro repeating the song title over a simple drum beat.

Betta Off Dead – The fellas bring back the dark instrumental from the intro and get into their tough guy slash psychotic bag, and some of their bars are pretty funny (specifically, Sticky Fingaz line: “Get the fuck out the way or get your ass cut, cause if you go to jail they’ll probably make a pussy out ya butt”). All of Onyx’s insanity is brought to a head with the morbid hook that finds Sticky growling “Get a life”, to which they all reply in unison: “Fuck that, we’re better off dead!” There very well might be something wrong with me, but I love this dark morbid shit.

Live Niguz – This was first released on The Show Soundtrack under the censored title, “Live!!!” and was the soundtrack’s lead single. The instrumental is built around a dope Isaac Hayes loop that Onyx uses to celebrate all the “live niguz” out there. It makes for a decent bop, and it’s probably the only song on OWGIU that lets a few rays of sunlight in.

Punkmotherfukaz – Onyx takes exactly one minute to yell at the top of their lungs rhyme about how much they despise “punkmotherfunkaz”. The soft melodic loop sounds like it’s at war with the rugged drums and rumbling bass line, but it all sounds great underneath the threesome’s amped up rhymes.

Most Def – Compared to the rest of the album, Onyx sounds semi-sedated on this one, as they pledge their allegiance to the hood and the street life over a somber backdrop that feels as serene as a cloudy day. My only qualm with this one is the placement of Sticky’s stellar dark verse that I think should have closed out the song instead of opening it. But even with that small misstep, this is still most definitely, one of my favorites on the album.

Act Up (Skit) – A quick interlude that finds the fellas amping the energy back up after the mellow gem that was the previous track.

Getto Mentalitee – Onyx invites All City (which is comprised of J Mega and Greg Valentine, who we earlier heard sing on “Purse Snatchaz” and sounds like a less talented version of Redman on this one) and Panama P.I. to join them on this rowdy cipher joint that all parties involved use to issue death threats and talk about how nice they are on the mic over a borderline boring beat. As expected, Sticky son’s his fellow crew members on the mic, as he discusses his lineage and how the blood of his enslaved ancestors also runs through his veins and has him ready to spark a race war. Other than Sticky’s contribution, I didn’t care for this one.

2 Wrongs – Onyx sticks with the energy Sticky gave us on the previous song, as the trio are ready to seek vengeance on the white man for the wrongdoings he’s dished out to black folks over the past 400 years. Sticky hooks up, what sounds like, a grimy interpolation of a chord from Marvin and Tammi’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” with a dusty guitar riff and steady drums. It was kind of nice to hear Onyx on some conscious shit.

Maintain (Skit) – Fredro lays a super laidback and smooth instrumental that he, Sticky and Sonee use to encourage all the pussy muthafuckas, the starving niggaz, the “nothing, nobody going no where’s” and all the brothers locked down to maintain.

Walk In New York – As soon as Fredro’s grimy instrumental drops you can just visualize the rats and rodents coming out the crevices and cracks of hood walls across NYC. Onyx matches the instrumental’s soiled piss stained energy with muddy bars to represent for the New York City streets. Filth never sounded so good.

Bacdafucup was a dark project in its own right, but it gave us a few cracks of light or at least some lighthearted material here and there to help break things up. That is not the case with All We Got Iz Us. From beginning to end, Onyx mashes the listener in the face with intense demented, morbid and militant content over fantastic production that’s so dark it makes Don Cheadle look light skin. Sticky, who proved he was nice with the mic on Onyx’s debut, is in a complete zone on AWGIU, with an improved Fredro being a decent Robin to his Batman; and Sonee…is still Sonee. Bacdafucup was definitely a bigger commercial success with bigger singles, but pound for pound, AWGIU is a better album that doesn’t get the credit it rightfully deserves.

-Deedub

 

 

 

 

 

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WC And The Maad Circle – Curb Servin’ (October 3, 1995)

After a short stent with DJ Aladdin as the duo Low Profile (you can read my thoughts on their sole group album here), WC left his partner in rhyme and teamed up with his little brother, Crazy Toones (rip), Coolio and Big Gee, forming the new group: WC and the Maad Circle. The group was able to secure a deal with Priority where they would release their debut album, Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed in 1991. While the album wasn’t a commercial success, it did receive love and respect from the streets, and I personally enjoyed the album as well (I had a copy of the cassette back in the day, but it got ate by my boom box several years and moons ago. Since then, it’s long been on my collection want list, but I’m not willing to shell out fifty bucks for a used CD copy. I’m sure I’ll come across a copy for a reasonable price one day, but until then…I’ll wait). After a four year hiatus, WC and the gang would return, without Coolio (who had gone solo and become a pop/rap star by that time) and on a new label (Payday/London), to release their sophomore effort, Curb Servin’.

Gone are Chilly Chill and Sir Jinx who helped mold the sound of AADTC. Curb Servin’ would rely mostly on the hands and ears of Crazy Toones to sonically shape the album, with a few assists from a couple of outside parties (including the legendary Ice Cube). Dub C would hold down microphone duties, while we’re still trying to figure out what Big Gee’s role is in the group. Curb Servin’ produced a couple of singles that made a little whisper and the album fared better than its predecessor on the charts, climbing to 85 on the Billboard’s Top 200 and 15 on the Top Hip-Hop/R&B Album Charts. Curb Servin’ would be the last album released under the Maad Circle name, as WC would once again leave a group to form a new one (he’s like the Lebron James of hip-hop), this time joining forces with Ice Cube and Mack 10 to form Westside Connection, who would release their debut group album the following year, and he would also begin his solo career.

I liked Ain’t A Damn Thang Changed, so when I bumped into a used CD copy of Curb Servin’ for less than ten bucks a few weeks ago, I had to cop. Curb Servin’ is yet another album that I’ve never heard in its entirety, until now, which is making me reconsider my earlier notion that I was super aware of all things hip-hop in the mid-nineties.

Intro – After a cinematic horn sample and a snippet from a police call that has a cop threatening to unleash the dogs on some poor soul, WC comes in and spits one sloppy and choppy verse over Crazy Toones’ uncreative instrumental built around a loop from the overly used and abused “Atomic Dog”. There are a few samples that should be retired and hung in the hip-hop rafters never to be used again, and “Atomic Dog” is one of them. Thankfully, this intro only lasts a minute and a half.

West Up! – This was the lead single from Curb Servin’. Crazy Toones loops up the same George Duke sample that Spice 1 used for “In My Neighborhood”, as Ice Cube and Mac 1o (who will forever be Wack 10 in my book after Common dissed him on “The Bitch In Yoo”) join Dub-C and give us the second installment of what would official become Westside Connection the following year (the first installment came on Mac 10’s self-titled debut album). While Dub C and Mac 10 spit lines to highlight the sights and sounds of L.A., Cube comes with a bunch of smoke for the East Coast, pretty much firing shots at them on every bar. This was dope. One of these days I’ll have to check out Westside Connection’s catalog.

Granny Nuttin’ Up – Granny leaves a hi-larious voicemail, misusing all the young boy slang in the process. This was a pretty funny interlude.

The One – This was the second single from Curb Servin’. Toones laces his big bro with some smooth soulful shit that Dub C uses to talk his shit on and occasionally goes into this corny Snagglepuss bit in the middle of a rhyme. I really like this one, and the greatness of Dub C summing the horn break after his second and third verses is only secondary to MC Eiht commanding the “bitches” to sing the hook on “Def Wish III”.

A Crazy Break Pt. 2 – Crazy Toones cuts shit up on the ones and two’s for this interlude, before going into the next song…

Put On Tha Set – WC smoked a PCP laced blunt (that he claims Coolio gave him) that has him so high he’s seeing himself on TV kickin’ it with the casts of classic shows like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Good Times, and the pictures he paints are funny as hell (the mixture of Thelma’s ass and Volona’s titties on one woman sounded very appealing, until he mentioned she has Florida’s face). The production duo of Madness 4 Real and Dr. Jam get their first production credit of the evening, as they provide a smooth mid-tempo groove for WC’s zany, creative and entertaining tale.

In A Twist – Dub-C reunites with his former Maad Circle bredrin turned pop-star, Coolio on this one, as the duo use this duet to share the details of their heist plot. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it was nice to hear WC and Coolio back together again.

Homesick – Our host expresses his love for the hood and declares that no matter where life takes him, he can’t and won’t stay away from the streets too long. Ice Cube hooks up a slow moving funk groove, dripping with pimp juice that’ll make you want to strut down the block with a toothpick in your mouth, looking for a prostitute to collect money from.

Feel Me – Sorry. Not on this one, Dub-C.

Curb Servin’ – The title track finds Dub C in battle mode, talkin’ his shit over a Crazy Toones/Ice Cube concoction, driven by samples from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love”. Remember what I said about “Atomic Dog” at the beginning of this post? The same applies for “Genius Of Love”. I didn’t like this one. WC sounds decent, but the backing music is very lackluster.

Stuckie Mack – Granny from the first interlude returns to leave another nonsensical vm. It was funny the first time around, but not enough to warrant a sequel.

Wet Dream – Over one long verse our host recalls the details of a dream he had while sleeping on the couch. In this dream, the black community comes together as one with one common goal in mind: to seek revenge on “every motherfucker who dissed the black” community. This includes Colin Powell, former California governor, Pete Wilson and Bill Clinton (whom Dub C is wise enough not to call out by name, but drops enough clues to make sure you know who he’s talking about) who all get sodomized (or as WC so eloquently puts it: “robbin’ motherfuckers of their manhood”) and hung high in Dub C’s brutal dream. Not quite as transformative and inspiring as MLK’s dream, but whatever. Gunfire from outside awakens our sleeping host, who’s quickly brought back to reality and finds himself sitting in a puddle of his own nut, which is both comical and disgusting. Toones provides a serious sounding smooth groove that helps bring the details of Dub’s dream to life.

Taking Ova – Madness 4 Real and Dr. Jam get their final production credit of the evening, sprinkling the perfect measurement of sinister synth chords over hard drums that Dub C rides like Billy The Kid on horseback (I love his line dedicated to the critics: “who said I wouldn’t last, I need to jump out the speakers and strangle yo’ ass”). Dub C’s baritone vocal sounds great over the minimal but potent backdrop.

Kill A Habit – Toones hooks up a semi-zany jazz flavored instrumental for Dub C, who’s on a mission to help his crack addicted brother get over his habit, and after several failed Rehabilitation Center stays (which he says are like vacations for his brother), Dub C’s ready to beat the shit habit out of his smoked-out sibling. After he and Toones beat the shit out of their brother and see no change in his behavior, it dawns on Dub that “the only one to kill a habit, is the one doing the practice”. Or he could take matters into his own hands and kill two birds with one stone (or one stoned bird) by putting a bullet in his head. This song reminds me a lot of Chris Rock’s stand-up comedy: serious shit discussed in a comical manner, making you laugh to keep from crying. Well done, WC.

Reality Check – A couple of Maad Circle’s locked up homeboys leave voicemails for Dub C and Crazy Toones, giving their current lock down location and showing love to the group on this short interlude. The concept and the instrumental sound very similar to Gang Starr’s “Aiiight Chill…” from Hard To Earn, which came out a year prior to Curb Servin’. Hmmm…

The Creator – A humble WC devotes the final song of the evening to God aka The Creator, showering him with reverence and praise for allowing him to survive the mean streets of Los Angeles and blessing him with the opportunity “to catch wreck over beats”, while a lot of his homeboys fell by the waste side. Dub C’s vocal tone and tendency to break into playful singing in the middle of a rhyme, reminds me a little of Big Daddy Kane. Rhythm D gets the production credit, hooking up a synthy interpolation of Shalamar’s “This Is For The Lover In You”, which works perfectly with Dub C’s heartfelt rhymes. The uncredited female vocalist on the hook and adlibs didn’t quite know her limitations and does a bit too much, but her unimpressive performance can’t derail this quality track. Great way to close out the album and the Maad Circle catalog.

Curb Servin’ is actually a pretty decent listen. After a forgettable intro, it quickly catches fire (“West Up!”, “The One” and “Put On Tha Set”), before going into a mediocre middle (“In A Twist”, “Homesick”, “Feel Me” and “Curb Servin'”), then finishes strong down the home stretch (“Wet Dream”, “Taking Ova”, “Kill A Habit” and “The Creator”). WC’s emcee presence and ability has definitely improved since his Low Profile days, and he does a quality job mastering the ceremony throughout Curb Servin’, balancing street shit with rapper shit talk and entertaining stories, even when the production wavers. I wouldn’t call Curb Servin’ a classic, but it’s definitely a worthy album from a short-lived but respected west coast crew.

-Deedub

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Souls Of Mischief – No Man’s Land (October 10, 1995)

October 10, 1995 was a busy release day in hip-hop! This is the fourth and final post for that date…for now. Enjoy the read and Happy Holidays!!!

Souls of Mischief made quite the first impression with their debut album, 93 ‘Til Infinity, which really gained steam thanks in large part to the classic title song that would go on to be the biggest hit in the group’s catalog. But don’t get it twisted, most of the album cuts were also potent pieces, and the four man crew from Oakland crafted a damn near flawless debut album. Two years later Souls of Mischief would return with their sophomore effort, No Man’s Land.

No Man’s Land would be the Souls’ last album released on Jive, as they would go the independent route after this one. I’m not sure what led up to the separation between SOM and Jive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with the poor reception of No Man’s Land. Not only did the album commercially perform poorly, but it also received dismal to mediocre reviews from the critics.

In 1995 I ate, drank, and slept hip-hop and was very attentive and aware of who was releasing new music, even if I didn’t like the artist or buy the music. So, I have no idea how I completely missed No Man’s Land. I don’t remember hearing a single from the album on the radio or a seeing a video for one of the album’s singles on Yo! MTV Raps or Rap City. Matter of fact, I didn’t even know this album existed until well after 2ooo. I bought the album used for a couple of bucks a few years back and this write-up marks my first time listing to No Man’s Land.

On a completely random side note: Souls of Mischief shouts out A Tribe Called Quest in the album’s liner notes, fulfilling my very stagnant Tribe Degrees of Separation bit.

So You Wanna Be A…No Man’s Land begins with a bangin’ drum beat, a thick bass line and jazzy vibes, all which correlate to a dope backdrop, courtesy of Opio. The instrumental had me all excited and ready to hear the foursome spew their eloquent abstracted battle raps, but instead all I get is a short interlude that finds the Souls chanting a refrain aimed at inspiring emcees. Oh well.

No Man’s Land – The Souls do use the title track to get into the eloquent abstractions I was looking to hear on the intro. Toure hooks up a chill funk guitar loop and a smooth horn sample over mid-tempo drums that SOM use to boast, brag and battle in their signature Hiero fashion. Phesto and A-Plus seem to let their hair down, as both their flows come with the traditional Oakland twang that was not heard on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Our hosts also invite their Hiero homeboy, Pep Love to officiate the song, adding useless shit talk in between verses, which probably sounds better than a meaningless wordy hook would have fared.

Rock It Like That – Apparently, this was the lead single from No Man’s Land and I’m still baffled on how I never heard this song on the radio or saw a video for it back in the day, but whatever. Opio’s instrumental is middling, the hook is horrendous and SOM’s rhymes sounds mediocre at best, so I guess I really didn’t miss anything.

Secret Service – A-Plus and Tajai play agents Plus and Massey, respectively, and share the details of a few of their government sanctioned assassination missions as secret agents over a ruggedly dark A-Plus produced backdrop. I’m not crazy about this one, but kudos to A-Plus and Tajai for the unique song concept.

FreshDopeDope – Jay Biz gets his first production credit of the evening and turns in a smooth mystical bop for SOM to continue to serve up their Oakland brand of battle bars. This one lives up to all three of the adjectives in the song title.

Where The Fuck You At? – What would a hip-hop album be without a little misogyny? SOM’s hormones are raging on this one, as Opio, Tajai and Phesto spew lusty lines about the objects of their erections. A-Plus deviates from the subject a bit and choses to share a short tale about a street dude who gets sent to jail and is now the object of his fellow inmates’ erections: it’s kind of out of place, but there’s always one jackass that goes against the grain just to stand out. Casual provides a hypnotic bluesy backdrop that works well behind SOM’s lewd lyrics.

’94 Via Satellite – Hieroglyphics founder, Del The Funky Homosapien drops in for this one and not only spits a verse alongside his SOM bredrin, but also provides the backdrop. The first few times I listened to this song I thought Del’s beat was decent, but the more I listen to it the more his off-kilter drums annoy me and sound cheesy, and all the other elements in the instrumental sound stale. The Souls stick to the battle-themed rhymes that have dominated the first half of No Man’s Land, but they barely resonate, largely due to the underwhelming backdrop.

Do You Want It? – A-Plus and Tajai are credited for this smooth jazz-tinged mid-tempo instrumental that our hosts use to brag and boast of their greatness in their signature Souls of Mischief style. This is definitely one of my favorites on the album.

Come Anew – Quick interlude that finds A-Plus and Phesto chatting about the past, present, future, getting paid and the emcees who bit their style over a chill loop and subdued drums.

Bumpshit – This one wasn’t terrible, but its replay value is very low.

Ya Don’t Stop – A-Plus builds the instrumental around a luscious loop (the same one Black Sheep used for Non-Fiction’s “Who’s Next?”) for himself and his SOM bredrin to rock over, and the foursome sound fresh during the process. By the way, Tajai and Opio are definitely the strongest emcees in the group. That was kind of a random thought, but whatever.

Yeah It Was You – While SOM takes a bathroom break, their homeboy, Pep Love grabs the mic and shares one quick verse over scarce drums and a somber loop. This was decent, but not enough to make me hunt down Pep’s whole catalog or anything.

Hotel, Motel – An enticingly melodic instrumental plays in the background while Tajai engages with a groupie in his hotel room (or motel room, choose your own adventure), who has nothing but questions about his fellow group members, and then he hi-lariously asks to see her ID, just to make sure she can legally accept the stabbing he’s trying to dish out. His pursuits of the booty are interrupted by a bunch of male groupies (whom Tajai affectionately refers to as “jerky ass niggas”) knocking at the door in hopes of spitting raps for Taj. Tajai quickly gets rid of the cock blockers and picks up where he left off at before he was rudely interrupted. Then the interlude ends and goes right into the next song that has absolutely nothing to do with this interlude.

Fa Sho Fo Real – Toure, along with Michael Witwer’s live guitar and bass play, create a soothing jazzy groove for our hosts to continue their verbal assault on other emcees. This is a solid record, and shout out to the female vocalist, Sora for providing the soft and tranquil notes on the hook. The song ends with Opio all fired up after listening to an unnamed rapper’s record whom he believes took a shot at the Souls on said song. He repeatedly asks his skeptical crew to rewind it so he can help them catch the alleged dis. Then the next song begins…

Dirty D’s Theme (Hoe Or Die) – I’m assuming the song title is either a shout out to the song’s producer (Extra Prolific’s frontman, Snupe, whose government name is Duane) or an encrypted response to whomever Opio was talking about at the end of the previous song, but who is this unnamed offender? My first thought was Domino, who produced about a third of 93 ‘Til Infinity and curiously had nothing to do with No Man’s Land, but he’s not a rapper and they actually shout him out in the album’s liner notes, so I can dead that theory. Then I looked at the “Hoe Or Die” portion of the song title and thought: “Could SOM be making a mockery of AZ’s debut album’s title, Doe Or Die, and aiming their verbal darts at him? I’ve never heard any rumblings of an AZ/Souls of Mischief beef, but you never know what might have been going on behind the scenes (by the way, if this speculative beef really did go down, I got my money on AZ. Hands down. I know he’s not known for his battle raps, but if push came to shove, I believe he could rip some unassuming emcees (*cough* Souls of Mischief) new assholes). More than likely the title is a shout out to Snupe and the battle bars SOM spits over his sleepy but pleasant and perfect for midnight marauding instrumental are more of the same random battle raps that have dominated most of No Man’s Land. Regardless, I still enjoyed this record.

Times Ain’t FairNo Man’s Land’s finale finds SOM spitting all types of randomness and then ridiculously trying to tie their verses into the nonsensical hook. Oh well…At least the A-Plus/Tajai produced breezy backdrop was enjoyable.

No Man’s Land is a bit of an enigma: Souls of Mischief pretty much pick up where they left off at on their debut, using most of the album to brag, boast and battle, occasionally deviating from the syllabus to share a story or talk about chicks. I’ve never considered SOM to be top tier lyricists, but them boys can definitely rap, and their rhymes paired with their slick jazz-flavored production style helped make 93 ‘Til Infinity a damn near masterpiece. For some reason that formula doesn’t hit the same on No Man’s Land. Technically, the album sounds good, but SOM’s rhymes don’t sound as sharp and while most of the instrumentals have heart, they seem to lack soul. In a nutshell, No Man’s Land is missing the magic Souls of Mischief gave on their first go round. Would they recapture the magic on their third album? Stay tuned…

-Deedub

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Jamal – Last Chance, No Breaks (October 10, 1995)

After releasing their very disappointing album, The Untold Truth (you can read my review on that album right here), Illegal members, Jamal and Malik, amicably, decided to go their separate ways and pursue solo careers. Both parties would stay with Rowdy (the same label that brought us The Untold Truth) after the break up, with Malik releasing the single “Malik Goes On”: a song I’ve never heard and apparently didn’t make enough noise for Rowdy to feel the need to follow it up with a full-length album. Malik would eventually leave Rowdy and join his cousin Snoop (is it just me or does it seem like half the hip-hop world is related to Snoop in some form or fashion?) on Death Row, where he would join the long list of rappers to sign to the label, record an album that would eternally be shelved and forever dwell in hip-hop’s black whole. Jamal’s solo’s career would fair somewhat better, as he would become a member of Erick Sermon’s Def Squad and release his solo debut album, Last Chance, No Breaks on Rowdy in the fall of ’95.

Naturally, Jamal would call on his Def Squad bredrin (Erick Sermon, Redman and Def Squad affiliate, Rockwilder) to contribute instrumentals for LCNB, but he would also get some production help from Easy Mo Bee, Mike Dean and a few lesser known beatsmiths  (curiously, his mentor, Dallas Austin gets an executive producer credit, but doesn’t directly produce any songs on the album). LCNB would produce a couple of charting singles, but the album didn’t sell well and it received average to dismal reviews from critics.

Although Jamal’s performance on The Untold Truth was very forgettable, he actually sounded decent during his cameo on Junior M.A.F.I.A’s “Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A.” from their debut album. So when I found LCNB for a few bucks at one of my spots a few years back, I figured I’d check it out and see if Mally G would continue his upward trend. That and the fact I liked one of the singles from the album. I’ve never listened to LCNB before today and I’m only familiar with two of the eleven tracks, but hopefully this fairs better than The Untold Truth did.

Live Illegal – Jamal kicks off the evening with a laid back Easy Mo Bee backdrop that he uses to boast and talk his tough guy shit, while low-key shouting out his old group on the hook (that uses a vocal snippet from Havoc of Mobb Deep), or at least the group’s name. Mally G’s rhyming has definitely improved since his Illegal days, but he’s still light years away from being anywhere near a top-tier emcee. The instrumental, while pleasant, is a little low on energy for an album opening track, but overall, this wasn’t bad.

Keep It Live – Jamal uses this one to share his bio, as he walks us through his days as a snot-nosed trouble magnet in Philly to meeting Left Eye of TLC and moving to Atlanta to pursue his dreams as an emcee. Someone going by PME, breaks Jamal off with a smooth soulful instrumental that sounds way more impressive than our host’s rhymes and terrible hook.

Situation – Mally G gets into his storytelling bag on this one, as he details a night out on the town with his crew that quickly ends with one person dead and another wounded. Surprisingly, Jamal’s story kept me intrigued throughout, as his rhymes paint a vivid visual of the violent events of that evening. Erick Sermon’s cloudy-soulful instrumental (complete with a sick rumbling bass line) sounds great coupled with Jamal’s thug tale.

Insane Creation – Our host invites his fellow Def Squad bredrin, Redman to join him on this duet, as the duo play hot potato with the mic. Both emcees turn in serviceable performances, but Easy Mo Bee’s instrumental makes watching paint dry sound exciting.

Fades Em All – Apparently, this was the first single from LCNB, but I’ve never heard it before now. Redman and Rockwilder construct a relaxing backdrop dripping with warm vibes that Jamal uses to talk big shit and tries his best to impress with boastful bars. His performance is middling at best, and even though I like the instrumental, it doesn’t match Jamal’s energy. FYI: The Pete Rock remix for this song is fire!

The Game – The song begins with a short skit that has two men making, what appears to be, an illegal transaction, then you hear gunshots ring out. Then Redman’s melodically creamy laid back instrumental comes in and Jamal spits a tale about a dude named Spin that’s full of murder, bitches, money and drugs. Much like “Fades Em All”, the instrumental is too relaxed for Jamal’s unoriginal and uninteresting hood narrative.

Da Come Up – Apparently this is the sequel to “The Game”, as the Spin character returns for another unimpressive thug tale from Jamal. Mike Dean’s backdrop was decent, though.

Don’t Trust No – Jamal doesn’t cover any new territory on this one, as he uses his verses to spew immature misogyny. But Mike Dean’s southern synthy groove is dope. I would love to hear Scarface spit something over it.

Keep It Real – This was LCNB‘s second single and one of the two songs I was familiar with going into this write-up. The Green-eyed Bandit loops a piano chord from Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon In The Sky” and turns it into a beautiful backdrop for Jamal to…keep it real. Jamal spits possibly the most ridiculous bar of all time on his second verse: “I stick my dick in the ground, then I turn the whole world around…and blow the sun up!” Wtf? Corny lyrics and generic song title aside (there were no less than a million rap songs with the same title by 1995), I absolutely love Erick Sermon’s somber instrumental.

Genetic For Terror – Jamal invites Keith Murray and L.O.D. (made up of 50 Grand and Kel-Vicious) to join him on this cipher session, and all four emcees turn in at least, decent performances with Mr. Murray inflicting the most damage (I love his line about “lockin’ up with rappers, Roman-Greco wrestling style”). Redman sets the mood, building the backdrop around a spooky bass line from The Jackson 5’s “Boogie Man” that ends up being the perfect canvas for the foursome to rhyme over. I like this one.

Unfuckwittable – This was the other song I was familiar with before this write-up, only because it was on the B-side of the “Keep It Real” single that I boosted from Musicland (or Sam Goody) back in the day to rap over the instrumental. Someone going by the alias of Erotic D (which sounds like a great porn name) hooks up a chilled-out deep funk groove for Jamal to introduce the world to Passion. Passion takes the first two verses and she completely murders the track and Jamal on his own shit. Jamal adds the third verse, but he would have fared better sitting this one out and letting his guest shine solo. I wonder what happened to Passion. I know she made a few more impressive cameos on some Erick Sermon records, but then she seemingly, disappeared (Wikipedia list this Passion as the same Oakland-based Passion who signed to MCA and released an album back in ’96, but I can’t and won’t believe they are the same person. If you have any info on this, feel free to hit me in the comments). Funk legend, George Clinton stops by to sprinkle some adlibs over the groove, but Passion is the true star of this one. And what a great song title.

On Last Chance, No Breaks, Jamal proves that his rhyming skills have definitely improved since his Illegal days, but he’s still only an average emcee on his best day. Overall, the album’s production is decent, but the subdued vibe (which I kind of enjoyed) that most of the instrumentals conjure up, contradict Mally G’s hyper-thug energy. But ultimately, Jamal’s lackluster content and underwhelming song ideas (and godawful hooks) aren’t strong enough to carry the weight for an entire album.

-Deedub

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