Souls Of Mischief – ’93 Til Infinity (September 28, 1993)

And today’s post completes the trilogy of September 28th 1993 releases.

When Del The Funky Homosapien came on the scene in ’91 with his debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here (read my thoughts on that album here) he definitely introduced the world to a different perspective than it was used to hearing from a west coast emcee. Even though he was from Oakland, he didn’t present a pimp or gangster persona (despite the fact that his cousin was Ice-Cube), but instead he represented the common man that did and talked about everyday Joe kind of things. And after Del established his footing in the game, he would introduce the world to his Hieroglyphics crew, who shared a like mindset. The first installment of his Hiero crew that he would introduce to the world, would be Souls of Mischief.

Like Del, Souls of Mischief (which consists of A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai) were also born and raised in Oakland. The four met in junior high and high school, where they formed the group, and soon would sign a deal with Jive, and release their debut album 93 ‘Til Infinity. Even though it didn’t move a ton of units, 93 ‘Til Infinity was a critical darling, and The Source (when the magazine still had street cred) named it one of The 100 Best Rap Albums of all time.

Through the years, some of the members have recorded solo albums, but they have all stayed faithful to the foundation, and have recorded 6 albums, with the latest being released in 2014. So far they’ve stayed true to their debut album’s title.

Let ‘Em Know93 ‘Til Infinity opens with mid-tempo drums, a thumpin’ bass line and a sick trumpet loop, that has all four members of Souls Of Mischief dropping the most articulate battle rhymes that I’ve ever heard. Seriously, these dudes sound like nerd emcees, but don’t get it twisted, these dudes can spit.

Let ‘And Let Live – Opio, Tajai and A-Plus each give their dissertation about gun violence in America’s inner cities, and Phesto’s left with hook duties. Domino hooks up a mid-tempo jazzy backdrop, and Bill Ortiz adds some live trumpet chords. All these piece come together to form a masterpiece of a song.

That’s When Ya Lost – Most probably forgot about this song, because of the massive hit that the second single became, but this was actually the first single released from 93 ‘Til Infinity. Del gets his first production credit of the evening, and he cooks up a dope instrumental for the Souls to spit all over. It’s awesome to hear four emcees with four distinctively different voices, that are all equally skilled. This one still sounds sick.

A Name I Call Myself – Hey, even nerd emcees like sex. Del continues his streak of dope instrumentals, and constructs this smooth backdrop for the foursome to wax poetic about smashing PYT’s. Side note: Phesto sounds like the early years version of Phife-Dawg on this one (rip).

Disseshowedo – If I could leave one song off the album this would probably be the one.

What A Way To Go Out – On this one each member of Souls plays the role of a dude living life in the fast lane, until the consequences of their actions come back to bite them square in the ass. If kids actually learned from other’s experiences instead of having to experience things for themselves, this would be a great warning record to play for pre-teens and above. By the way, Domino’s backdrop is super low-key , but still pretty dope.

Never No More – This is tied for my favorite song on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Usually, I’m not a fan of battle rhymes being spewed over quiet storm instrumentals, but this is an exception. A-Plus’ soothing instrumental would be the perfect soundtrack for a massage, and the Souls’ rhymes work over it because of their articulation and instrument like vocal tones. I don’t care how many times I listen to this song, I never get tired of it.

93 ‘Til Infinity – This was the second single, and may be the greatest hip-hop album title track of all time. A-Plus’ instrumental is both intense and melodic, and the way A-Plus, Tajai, Opio and Phesto tag team the mic, they sound like an updated west coast version of the Cold Crush Brothers. This is a flawless classic.

Limitations – Casual drops in to contribute a verse, and Del handles the hook (and parting words), while the Souls continue to boast of their greatness and discredit all other emcees, over a Jay Biz produced instrumental. This was solid.

Anything Can Happen – Tajai sets up the scene with his verse, as he watches his childhood friend get murdered by gun shots, and his mom also gets hit when the shots are fired. Instead of calling 911, Tajai finds the nearest payphone (some of ya’ll may need to Google “payphone” to find out what that is) and calls Opio, and the rest of the Souls crew get involved seeking revenge for Tajai’s injured mom and deceased buddy. Yes, I know this is hard to believe coming from these guys, but at least they do a great job of sticking to the storyline, and the instrumental is solid. Plus, murder has never sounded so elegant.

Make Your Mind Up – And this is the other song tied for my favorite on 93 ‘Til Infinity. Del gets his final production credit of the evening, and he definitely saves his best for last, as he flips the shit out of a Ramsey Lewis loop and turns it into beautiful perfection (I absolutely love the way the bass line gyrates up and down the track). Phesto sits this one out, and lets A Plus, Opio and Tajai talk their shit over Del’s masterpiece, and they compliment his canvas, wonderfully.

Batting Practice –  Remember what I said about “Disseshowedo”? This one runs neck to neck with it for weakest song on the album.

Tell Me Who Profits – SOM uses the last real song of the evening to get slightly conscious, as they address/question the drug epidemic in America’s urban cities, amongst other things. You may recognize one of the loop’s Casual uses for the instrumental from Jay-Z’s “Coming Of Age”. Not my favorite song on 93 ‘Til Infinity, but it’s solid.

Outro – Over a simple Domino produced instrumental, SOM give their shoutouts, which coincidentally includes a shoutout to their same day debut release buddy, YZ.

On 93 ‘Til Infinity, Souls of Mischief sound like a hybrid of hip-hop and Shakespeare, kind of like when Mekhi Phifer played Othello in the movie “O”, only 93 ‘Til Infinity is actually worth the cost of admission. Over the course of thirteen songs, SOM construct meticulously articulate rhymes over hard-hitting drums and jazz vibes, that would lead one to believe these dudes were from the east coast, as they sound nothing like the west coast g-funk sound that dominated the left coast in the mid nineties. 93 ‘Til Infinity is not without flaws, but it’s a strong statement from SOM that holds up well, all these years later.

-Deedub

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KRS-One – Return Of The Boom Bap (September 28, 1993)

Part deux of the September, 28 1993 releases.

We last heard from KRS-One (not withstanding his cameo appearances on other artists’ albums) on BDP’s 1992 release, Sex And Violence, which would be the final album released by Boogie Down Productions. As I mentioned in my post for Sex And Violence, Kris had pretty much cut out the bulk of the members in BDP before the album was released, so it was only a matter of time before he would go solo. And he would do just that in 1993 with his first solo effort, Return of the Boom Bap.

For ROTBB, Kris would recruit the legendary DJ Premier and Kid Capri to produce the bulk of the album, and he and a few others would handle the remaining balance of songs. ROTBB wasn’t a commercial success, but it was a critical darling, which should come as no surprise, considering how respected of an emcee that KRS-One is.

KRS-ONE AttacksROTBB opens with a Premo instrumental built around a dope piano loop, with KRS-One soundbites placed over it. Nice way to start to the evening.

Outta Here – This was the lead single from ROTBB. Kris uses his verses on this one to paint a brief bio of his humble hip-hop beginnings to his rise to emcee supremacy with Boogie Down Productions. Premo hooks up a simple, but intense, instrumental as Kris discusses living in the shelter, meeting Scott LaRock, meeting Rakim and Public Enemy, loosing Scott LaRock, and rappers who cool off and lose their record deal, video and $5,000 loveseat. I didn’t really like this song back in the day, but I can definitely appreciate Premo’s beat and Kris’ sharp lyrics more today than back then. Fine wine, baby.

Black Cop – On this self-produced track, KRS discusses the crooked, misguided and brainwashed black cops that mistreat the black community in which they are supposed to serve. Kris’ ragamuffin’ delivered content is solid, but I’ve never been able to get into his drab instrumental.

Mortal Thought – Premo whips up a beauty of a backdrop for this one, as Kris’ limber tongue and lyrics dance wonderfully all over it. This one is fire, and a classic boom bap record.

I Can’t Wake Up – Our host is stuck in a dream that he’s a blunt, but not just any blunt. Over the course of three verses, Kris has the pleasure of getting smoked by several of your favorite hip-hop artists (including his once enemy, Das EFX…apparently they made up by the fall of 1993) before finally being refused by the drug free emcee, Chubb Rock (Kris references a line from Chubb’s verse from “Back To The Grill”). I’m not a huge fan of Premo’s instrumental or Kris’ storyline.

Slap Them Up – Kris is joined by his buddy Ill Will, as the two tag team the mic over a dope melodic mid-tempo instrumental that’s credited to a Norty Cotto and Douglas Jones. Ill Will does a decent job of keeping up with the teacher, until Kris completely obliterates him, and the beat, on his final verse. This was dope.

Sound Of Da Police – This is another one that I wasn’t really a fan of back in the day. Showbiz hooks up a simple and dark backdrop for Kris to discuss the history of police in America (which includes a borderline stretch of “officer” being derived from the term “overseer”) to the current state of police brutality on black men, which sadly, is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. “My grandfather had to deal with the cops, my great-grandfather dealt with the cops, my great-grandfather had to deal with the cops, and then my great, great, great, great…when is it gonna stop?”. This one definitely sounds better today then it did in ’93.

Mad Crew – Kris’ instrumental is cool, but his lyrics are the true star of this one. So, just sit back and watch one of the best to ever grip a mic show you how it’s done.

Uh Oh – This one is unique. Kris gets credit for the production, so I’m assuming it’s his own voice that he loops and stacks to create the instrumental. He then pulls out his ragamuffin’ style to share three different tales of kids with guns that all end in death. Kris’ “beat” is kind of weak, but the stories were clear and delivered effectively.

Brown Skin Woman – Kris gets his ragamuffin flow on over a solid Kid Capri (who, thanks to his cameos throughout Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, is now known by a whole new generation of hip-hop lovers) instrumental, showing respect to the black women, so you can’t hate on that.

Return Of The Boom Bap – I hated this song back in the day, and I still hate it now. The only thing about this song that I enjoyed was the quick and effective jab he takes at his nemesis, PM Dawn (“On and on to the PM Dawn, two buckshots and your squad is gone”…rip Prince Be). Other than that, this song was pretty worthless, which is sad, since it is the title song.

“P” Is Still Free – Kris picks up where he left off at on Criminal Minded’s “Remix For P Is Free”, as he shares a few tales about scandalous women doing whatever it takes to get the crack, rock that is. This may be my least favorite Premo produced song in his legendary catalog, and it’s easily the weakest song on ROTBB. But, I’m sure there is somebody out there that completely disagrees with me on that.

Stop Frontin’ – Kid Capri gets his second production credit of the evening, placing a smooth piano loop over soft drums, and a cool horn sample, that Kris uses to breeze through, making the art of emceeing look like elementary. Capri also squeezes a quick verse in between KRS-One’s, and he doesn’t sound bad. This is definitely one of my favorite songs on ROTBB.

Higher Level – Premo gets his final production credit of the evening, and he saves his best for last, as he turns a sick loop from Gene Page’s “Blackula” into a disgusting instrumental that will make you screw your face and nod your head, uncontrollably. Kris uses it to discuss religion and politics in America, as he instructs the listener to “vote for God, don’t vote for the devil”. There is not any better way he could have ended the album than with this monster of a masterpiece.

The chip that was squarely on KRS-One’s shoulder throughout Sex And Violence is clearly gone on Return of the Boom Bap. But don’t get it twisted, the teacher is still sharp as a razor. KRS-One laces the album with pristine rhymes and sound lessons throughout. It would have been nice to hear Premo produce the entire album, instead of just half, as the production is a bit uneven throughout ROTBB, but there are still enough bangers to keep you attentive, and Kris’ lyrical dexterity and clarity will keep you entertained, even when the instrumentals fail.

-Deedub

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YZ – The Ghetto’s Been Good To Me (September 28,1993)

September 28, 1993 was a busy day for hip-hop. Here is the first of three reviews for albums that dropped that day.

When you think of New Jersey hip-hop, some of the common names that come to mind are Queen Latifah. Naughty By Nature. Redman. Fugees. Poor Righteous Teachers. These are all names that helped shape the sound and legacy of New Jersey hip-hop, but the subject of today’s post is a name that is often forgotten, but should be mentioned, as he is clearly a New Jersey hip-hip pioneer. Ladies and gentlemen, YZ.

Born Anthony Hill, YZ grew up break dancing and battling emcees in north New Jersey in the mid-eighties. After making a name for himself on the local scene for his battling skills, YZ would get the attention of Tony D (best known for being the man behind the boards for most of Poor Righteous Teachers’ first few albums), and the two would form their own Production company, Two Tone Production (because they were both named Tony and one was black and one white…pretty clever). They recorded a demo together that got into the hands of the right people and led to an indie deal with a small indie label, which later led to YZ buying into and becoming part owner of another small indie label (Diversity Records), where he released his first official singles “Thinking Of A Masterplan” and “In Control Of Things”. YZ would later sign Poor Righteous Teachers to Diversity, but according to YZ, Tony D got in Wise Intelligent’s ear and caused a riff between Y and PRT. This lead to PRT leaving Diversity before ever releasing music on the label, and eventually YZ would also leave Diversity and sign a deal with Tuff City Records, where he would release his debut album, Sons Of The Father (an album I’ve never heard, but will continue to wait to listen to until I can track it down for less than $50). Sons Of The Father was received well on the underground scene, and helped YZ get a deal with Livin’ Large, a subsidiary of Tommy Boy, where he would release the follow-up to Sons Of The Father, The Ghetto’s Been Good to Me. Damn, that was a lot of information.

The Ghetto’s Been Good to Me (which I will refer to as TGBGTM from this point on) produced at least two singles that I can recall, but the album came and went without much praise or fanfare. I copped TGBGTM a few years ago on the strength of those singles, but have never listened to the album in its entirety, until now. And there is no time like the present, folks.

Second To Nobody – The album opens with a dark and dusty Mark Spark produced instrumental that YZ uses to brag and boast, as he takes his shot at the imaginary throne. YZ might not be on the same lyrical level as say a Rakim or Kane, but was pretty nice with the verbs in his own unique way, and it’s on full displays on this opening track. This was dope.

The Return Remix – I’ve always thought it was strange to have the remix of a song before the original version in the album sequencing, but that is exactly what YZ does with this song. He also dedicates the third verse to Naughty By Nature (on the original mix, YZ makes that very clear when he starts off the verse with “I hear somebodies talking naughty naughty about me”), with whom it was pretty common knowledge that he was beefin’ with back then. The TrakMasterz (who now that I think about it have been making dope hip-hop records since the early nineties and well into the new millennium, but never seemed to get the props they deserve) are tapped to produce this one, and they provide a pleasant instrumental, but in my opinion, it’s too clean for YZ’s grimy rhymes. I definitely prefer the rugged Murders The Medicine’s o.g.  mix.

Barber Shop – This was kind of weird. I’ve never been the type that liked to post up and hangout at the barber shop. That’s why I always call (or text) my barber to schedule an appointment, so I don’t have to sit and wait for him forever. But YZ takes the hangin’ out shit to the next level. According to his rhymes, he likes to commit crimes (specifically, shoot niggas) and then chill at the barbershop all day as his alibi. Mark Spark builds the instrumental around the same loop that Marley Marl used for Intelligent Hoodlum’s “Party Animal” a few years prior, but it still sounds proper, even if YZ’s lyrical content is ratchet as hell.

Drink At The Bar – After one catches a body and hides out at the barber shop until the smoke clears, it’s only natural that he heads to the bar for a drink or two. YZ grabs a Becks and treats the PYT he meets to a “Sex on the Beach”, as he spits game to her over a laid back melodic Mark Spark instrumental. This was nice, suitable for listening to after the last call at the bar.

(So Far) The Ghetto’s Been Good To Me – And this is the reason I bought TGBGTM in the first place. YZ gets his first production credit of the evening (with a co-production credit going to Trakmasterz), knocking it out the park with a slightly drowsy bass line, balanced out by perky jazz horns, as our host struts with ghetto pride, confidently boasting about the respect he’s earned with his microphone in these here streets. This one still sounds amazing today.

It’s Got To Stop – If I had to leave one song off of TGBGTM, this would be the one. YZ sounds pretty solid, as he demands that sucka emcees stop with the bullshit, but Terminata’s chant of the song title during the hook gets annoying, and God Lequan’s instrumental is sub par.

Newborn – YZ is in high spirits on this one, as he anxiously awaits the arrival of his newborn seed. He also gets his second production credit of the evening, but this time it all goes to him without a co-credit, and it’s pretty solid.

Life Under Pressure – I’m not a huge fan of Murder’s The Medicine’s (or Murders The Medicine, as he’s credited in the liner notes on “The Return Of The Holy One”) instrumental, but YZ’s rhymes are colorful and very amusing, as he vents all over this song. It sounds like he may have taken some shots at the Fugees on his second verse when he mentions something about “Ruffhouse is buggin’ suckin’ your dick” and later “when I see a nigga front I wanna knock out his fronts, and kick the bitch in the cunt, all up in my face but she pulls too many stunts” (if you have more info on it, hit me in the comments).

Acid Rain – YZ invites his buddy City Morgue to join him over The Deviators’ dark instrumental, as both emcees take a verse to brag and boast about their greatness. It was hi-larious to hear City Morgue call YZ an ugly “muthafucka” on his verse. Overall, this was decent.

Dead Love – After several listens, I’m still not sure if this one is about a dead lover or if the “she” YZ speaks of is a metaphor or riddle for something else. Regardless of who he’s talking about, his eerie, yet melodic flow, is very intriguing. YZ gets credit for programming the drums, and invites Jamaaladeen Tacuma to play bass and Richard Tucker the rhythm guitar, and the results are damn near hypnotic.

The Return Of The Holy One – See my comments above for “The Return Remix”. And…wrap.

Most hip-hop artist underestimate the importance of an album’s length. I’ve always said it’s best to keep an album between 10 and 13 tracks, that way the listener doesn’t become overwhelmed and are able to digest the complete project and get familiar with the artist. On The Ghetto’s Been Good to Me, YZ does just that. With just 11 tracks, YZ allows the listen to familiarize themselves with his unique style and consume is content, while they nod along to a pretty solid bunch of instrumentals. There are a few mediocre songs on TGBGTM, but with the album only having 11 songs, it makes listening to the average songs easier to digest. TGBGTM isn’t a classic album, but it’s solid, and a nice discovery for me.

-Deedub

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De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate (September 21, 1993)

After releasing great back to back debut and sophomore albums, by 1993 De La Soul was quickly establishing themselves as some of hip-hop’s newest generals. They came on the scene in ’89 proudly representing the daisies, but that era quickly came to an end when the hip-hop community mistook them for soft hippy rap dudes. That led them to them proclaiming their own deaths their second go round in an attempt at a new beginning, but in reality they pretty much stuck to the same script as their first outing. So, what would the trio do with their third effort? Well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Buhloone Mindstate, which was De La’s way of saying that no matter how successful they are with their music they won’t sellout, would pretty much use the same formula as the first two albums: Abstract rhymes from Plugs One and Two (Posdnuos and Trugoy, respectively), and jazz drenched production from all three Plugs (resident deejay, Maseo being Plug 3), and the unofficial fourth Plug, Prince Paul. Like their first two albums, Buhloone Mindstate was received with heaps of praise by critics and hip-hop heads alike. Hell, In his 2004 Rolling Stone’s magazine list of greatest hip-hop albums of all-time, Chris Rock even scored Buhloone Mindstate number 10.

I’ve always felt that Chris was a great comedian.

Intro – The album open with a lonely loop from The Outlaw Blues Band’s “Deep Gully” and De La and crew reciting what is ultimately the theme and meaning of the album title: “it might blow up, but it won’t go pop”.

Eye Patch – I never really understood the concept behind this song. Posdnuos and Trugoy’s rhymes are too coded for my liking, and the instrumental behind them is so mediocre you won’t even want to put the effort into decoding whatever the hell it is that they’re talking about. It was kind of comical to hear Maseo talk his shit to “all those rappers that dissed” De La “on records” at the end of the song, though.

En Focus – Pos and Trugoy exchange verses about fleeting fame and the fickleness of fans in the music industry. Pos’ abstract rhymes work better on this one than the first song, but Trugoy’s lines are still too much for me to try to get to the bottom of. Plus, Prince Paul and company hook up yet another uninteresting instrumental.

Patti Dooke – Over a smooth jazz flavored backdrop carried by some warm sax notes, Posdnuos and Trugoy abstractly, as our friends at Genius.com so eloquently put it, speak on” the never-ending phenomenon of the misappropriation of Black influence into mainstream musical culture without proper accreditation”, or in laymen terms: how throughout time the white man has consistently stole black folk music and made way more money off of it than the creators. Patty Duke was a child actress in the sixties best known for her starring role in The Patty Duke Show, whose name would later become the name of a popular hip-hop dance in the eighties. Guru (from Gangstarr, rip) stops by to assist with the hook, and Paul and the boys masterfully place soundbites from The Five Heartbeats (I love that movie) throughout.

I Be Blowin’ – De La Soul invites the legendary jazz saxophonist, Maceo Parker to blow the shit out of his horn over an emotional and somber backdrop. No rhymes. No hook. Just Maceo Parker playing his horn over an instrumental that is bound to make you reflect and make some introspections, as you try to figure out how you became the piece of shit that you are today. I’m just sayin’.

Long Island Wildin’ – SDP and Takagi Kan stop by, fresh off a plane from Japan (Konnichiwa, bitches!), to spit a quick verse in Japanese. I have no idea what they’re saying, but whatever, it’s over pretty quick.

Ego Trippin’ (Part Two) – This was the second single released from Buhloone Mindstate. Paul and De La borrow a few loops from Al Hirt’s “Harlem Hendoo” (the liner notes in Buhloone Mindstate credit the song as “Harlem Hendo”, but you get the drift) and turn it into a beautiful instrumental for Pos and Tru to poke fun at the hardcore gangster/pimp persona that was becoming popular in hip-hop at the time. Well done, fellas. Side-note: there is no part 1 to this song, but the “Part Two” in the title is more so paying homage to Ultramagnetic MC’s classic song with the same title.

Paul’s Revenge – This short interlude has Prince Paul leaving a venting voicemail about not getting credit for some songs he apparently produced for Slick Rick (I’m assuming he’s referring to The Ruler’s Back album?). It’ll make you chuckle at least the first few times you listen to it.

3 Days Later – Posdnuos and Trugoy each share cautionary tales where lust and pride, respectively, do them in. This song has never been one of my favorites. The instrumental might not grab you right away, but after a few listens, you’ll begin to appreciate it, but I have and always will hate Pos and Trugoy’s elementary flow on this one.

Area – Brothers De La use this drab backdrop to shoutout the different area codes they dwell in, their people dwell in, or where they had to kick niggas asses at. I never cared for this one in the past and still don’t today.

I Am I Be – De La revisits the instrumental from “I Be Blowin'”, but this time around they substitute Maceo Parker’s sax solo with rhymes from Posdnuos and Trugoy, who give brief bio’s to explain who they are and “what they be”. The intro (and outro) of the song have De La’s extended family members (i.e. Q-Tip, Shortie No Mass, Busta Rhymes, Dres, to name a few) introducing themselves and “what they be”, which brings me back to a line from Posdnuos’ first verse: “faker than a fist of kids, speakin’ that they’re black, when they’re just niggas trying to be Greek, or some tongues who lied and said “‘We’ll be native to the end”, nowadays we don’t even speak”. I’ve always wondered which of his Native Tongue brethren (or sisters) that line was meant for. If you know, hit me in the comments. This is definitely one of the best songs on the album.

In The Woods – This is one of my favorite songs on Buhloone Mindstate. The fellas hook up an upbeat jazz flavored backdrop, complete with warm horns on the hook, as Posdnuos, Trugoy, and female emcee, Shortie No Mass (who is to Buhloone Mindstate what Consequence would later be to Tribe’s Beats, Rhymes And Life), each spit a verse over its splendor. Posdnuos, as usual, walks away with the title, as he spits what is probably his best verse of the entire album, with bars like “Catch me breathin’ on planes where the gangstas outdated, fuck being hard, Posdnuos is complicated”. This one sounds better today than it did when I first heard it two decades ago.

Breakadawn – This was the lead single from Buhloone Mindstate. Paul and the boys rip a loop from MJ’s “I Can’t Help It” and turn it into a beautifully melodic instrumental that Pos and Trugoy spill their rhymes over.

Dave Has A Problem…Seriously – Trugoy (also known by his government name, Dave) uses this interlude to quickly makes what starts out as a routine voicemail go from weird to downright disgusting. It’ll make you laugh at least the first two times you listen to it, though.

Stone Age – De La Soul ends Buhloone Mindstate with what may be the worst song in their entire catalog. From the empty instrumental, to Pos, Trugoy and special guest, Biz Markie’s, garbage rhymes, everything about this song was wrong.

I love De La Soul. Maybe not as much as ATCQ, but I still have a significant amount of love for the Long Island threesome. Any true hip-hop head or historian will agree that De La Soul’s prime years were their first four albums (3 Feet High And Rising, De La Soul Is Dead, Buhloone Mindstate and Stakes Is High). That doesn’t mean that the rest of their catalog is garbage. They definitely had some fire songs and pretty solid albums after Stakes Is High, but they were no longer relevant.

I say all of that to say that of De La’s prime albums, Buhloone Mindstate is without question the weakest of the four. Posdnuos and Trugoy have always been abstract with their rhymes, but on Buhloone Mindstate they take their abstractions to new levels, to the point I get headaches trying to decode them. And to make matters worse, most of the production ranges from boring to trash. Don’t get me wrong, Buhloone Mindstate does have a handful of dope songs (see “Patti Dooke”, “I Am I Be”, “In The Woods” and “Breakadawn”), but the majority of the album is barely passable from an early nineties De La Soul. Or, maybe I’m just deaf, dumb and blind (I’m actually not that far from being legally blind, but that a story for a different day).

-Deedub

 

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Poor Righteous Teachers – Black Business (September 14, 1993)

We last heard from Poor Righteous Teachers in 1991 on their sophomore effort Pure Poverty, and while it didn’t move as many units as their gold selling debut album, Holy Intellect, some critics and fans considered it classic record (I personally found the album’s title more interesting than the actual album itself, but that’s neither here nor there). The Trenton, New Jersey trio would return in 1993 with their third effort, Black Business.

Tony D (rip) handled most, if not all, of the production duties on the first two PRT albums, which I’ve always thought was interesting, considering he’s white and PRT’s black militant stance. For Black Business, PRT decide to do it themselves, as they handle the bulk of the production, only leaving Tony D to produce 4 tracks. Like Pure Poverty, Black Business was another critical success for the trio, but it didn’t match the commercial success of Holy Intellect.

But we don’t care about commercial success here at TimeIsIllmatic, only quality music. So let’s see if PRT handled their um, business, this time around.

144K – PRT start things off with a bangin’ reggae-tinged instrumental that has Wise Intelligent displaying his flow and seamlessly shifting from a standard flow to raggamuffin style (sometimes within the same verse), spilling black consciousness mixed with shit talk (damn, that was a long sentence!). This was a great way to kick things off.

Da Rill Shit – Interesting to see a posse cut appear this early in the sequencing, but Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom and Father Shaheed are joined by Power Israel, Black Prince and Omar Superstar (yeah, I never heard of any of them either), as each party kicks a verse in this cypher. The instrumental is decent, and even though no one sounds spectacular on the mic, every one holds their own and sounds like they had fun recording this one.

Nobody Move – This was the first, and I believe, only single released from Black Business. Over a bleak and rugged backdrop, Wise Intelligent continues to pimp slap the beats with his commanding ragamuffin flavored flow. Dope.

Mi Fresh – Long time PRT collaborator, Tony D gets his first production credit of the evening, and it’s fairly decent instrumental. Wise and Culture Freedom take turns talking their shit, dropping a few lesson and defending their own righteousness when their critics are “drinking brew, puffin’ blunts, shootin’ dice and shit”. Well done, gents.

Here We Go Again – More black conscious rhymes mixed with emcee bars from Wise and Culture on this one. This instrumental kind of reminds me of the one used on “Mi Fresh”, but different enough to sound dope in its own right.

Selah – Black Business’ momentum slows down quite a bit with this one. Tony D slides Wise Intelligent a sleepy paced instrumental that he continues to teach over. And Wise may have been just as dope on this one as the previous songs, but Tony D’s instrumental is so boring it distracts your attention from anything else going on during the song.

Black Business – Talk about redemption. Tony D comes right back and turns hard drums and a breezy horn loop into a gem of a backdrop for the title track. Wise Intelligent serves it justice, but Tony D’s backdrop is the true star of this one, as he provides the best instrumental of the entire album.

Get Off The Crack – On this one PRT take things back to the dark and dusty zone they’ve been it for most of the album. Wise and Culture Freedom take turns mixing lessons with shit talk, and while Wise has nothing to worry about as far as being the number one emcee of the crew, Culture Freedom sounds pretty nimble with his flow on this one.

None Can Test – The energy comes down a bit from the previous song. Over a decent instrumental, Wise continues to “New Jersey drive” over the track (he must have loved that movie, because this the third song on Black Business that he mentions it on). Wait. Did Wise take a shot at Brand Nubian (“if there’s a foe that’s in the place that’s willin’ to fuck with this, you punks jump up to get beat down for playing that stupid shit”)? Regardless, this song is decent, but definitely not one of the strongest songs on the album.

Ghetto We Love – Wise uses this one to reminisce about his ratchet upbringing in the ghetto (“rats in my front room, roaches in the back, junkies in the alley running sells for the crack”), while at the same time singing praises for the childhood trials that helped shape him into the man (or god) that he is today. Add a decent backdrop to the mix and this turns out to be a well sculpted track.

Rich Mon Time – Over a reggae tinged backdrop, Wise pulls out his “stummer step” style (which is basically his reggae/ragamuffin flavored flow), and Culture Freedom contributes a useless verse that makes me want to take back everything nice I said about his rhyme on “Get Off The Crack”. The song opens with Wise saying “this is a rich man time…unless poor people fight for their rights”, but neither he or Culture’s rhymes have anything to do with the that statement or the song title. The PRT produced instrumental is a nice mellow groove that kind of reminds me of the acoustic mix of Arrested Development’s “People Everyday”.

Lick Shots – The final song of the evening has Wise licking shots at his adversaries over a hard and dark Tony D produced instrumental. Not my favorite song on Black Business, but still a solid ending to the album.

Black Business is easily the most consistent of Poor Righteous Teachers’ first three albums. With some help from Tony D, PRT manage to string together a cohesive batch of backdrops, mixing in a few certified bangers (see “144K” and “Black Business”) amongst a bunch of blue-collar instrumentals that more often than not work well behind Wise Intelligent’s strong and flexible flow. Black Business does come with a few hiccups, but overall winds up being a black business worthy of your support.

-Deedub

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Illegal – The Untold Truth (August 24, 1993)

With the success of Another Bad Creation’s platinum selling Coolin’ At The Playground Ya Know! and Kris Kross’ triple platinum debut Totally Krossed Out, record labels were suddenly open to signing kid hip-hop acts in the early nineties. You had Chi-Ali. Da Youngstas. Shyheim. A+. And then their was Illegal.

Illegal was the teenage two-man crew consisting of Mr. Malik Edwards (from Holly Hill, South Carolina, and he’s also Snoop Dogg’s cousin) and Jamal Phillips (from Philly). The two met at a Naughty By Nature/TLC concert (who are currently touring together on the I Love The 90s Tour…time is illmatic) in North Carolina. Mr. Malik was rolling with Treach and Jamal was with Left Eye, and both were trying to get deals as solo artist. Shortly after their meeting, they decided to join forces and formed Illegal (according to Jamal, the name was given to them by Busta Rhymes after he heard them spit at a club). Another Bad Creation’s manager, Kevin Wells, introduced them to Dallas Austin, which led to them signing a deal on Dallas’ Rowdy Records label, where they would release their debut (and only) album The Untold Truth.

The Untold Truth would feature production from some of hip-hop’s most respected names (i.e. Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Erick Sermon, Biz Markie and Cool V), and unlike all of the kid groups listed above, Illegal didn’t have a clean image and actually had to put a parental advisory sticker on the album due to their dirty little mouths. The Untold Truth produced some mild hits, but overall was not received with a ton of praise. Illegal would soon after go their separate ways and work on their solo careers (Jamal released one solo album on Rowdy (that I’ll get to at some point in the future)and Malik released one single on Rowdy, but his full length project would be shelved and never saw the light of day), but neither would make much noise.

I came across The Untold Truth about a year ago while digging in the used bins at a record store in Chicago (shoutout to Reckless Records!). I’ve never listened to the album before now and I’m only familiar with the singles, of which two of the three I remember being pretty solid. I also do remember not being impressed by Malik or Jamal’s rhymes, but with the list of heavy hitting producers in liner notes, even if Malik and Jamal stink up every song at least the beats will bang.

Right??

Back In The DayThe Untold Truth opens with what would ultimately be the third and final single released from the album. Over a slightly dark synth Colin Wolfe produced track, Malik and Jamal talk about their coming of age (which is hard for me to put in to perspective, considering they were thirteen or fourteen when the song was recorded…and the hook is even more hi-larious when you hear the little whippersnappers say “back in the day when I was a teenager”) in the mist of drugs and violence. Wolfe’s instrumental is decent, but the instrumental on the remix to this song (which was also used in the song’s video) is a lot more enjoyable.

Illegal Will Rock – Diamond D stops by and generously blesses the adolescent duo with a gem, as he turns a wicked Bill Withers bass line into a funky backdrop for the kids to spit their mediocre rhymes over. Jamal might have been slightly more skilled on the mic than Malik, but they both struggle with articulating their words, which makes it hard to make out what they’re saying at certain points of the song. But I’m sure Diamond’s flavorful instrumental will make you overlook all of the kiddos iniquities.

Head Or Gut –  This was the first single from The Untold Truth, and the first of many shots the duo would fire at their kiddy contemporaries. This time around Jamal fires a direct shot at Chi-Ali, as he threatens to “smoke that ass” at the end of his first verse. Obviously Jamal didn’t know he was fuckin’ with a real life killer in the making. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t a big fan of Erick Sermon’s solo production work post EPMD’s first break-up, and this song is a prime example why: his “funk” instrumental sounds like a bunch of random muffled noise, and the wannabe kid gangsters don’t make matters any better. I never cared much for this song in the past and that feeling still remains today.

CrumbSnatcher  – On this one Malik and Jamal are on a mission to become drug lords, and Diamond D (who produced the track) also drops a verse about dealing dope, which sounds weird coming from the D.I.T.C. co-founder. From the concept, to the lyrics, to the uninspired instrumental, this was garbage.

We Getz Busy – This was the second single released from The Untold Truth. Illegal continues to fire shots at their kiddy rivals, as Malik calls out Chi-Ali, Da Youngstas and Kris Kross, on his first verse (ABC is only spared due to their relationship with Dallas Austin as well), and Erick Sermon also adds a verse to the song. The green-eyed bandit also gets his second production credit of the night and redeems himself with a sick guitar lick loop perfectly placed over his heavy drums. This was actually pretty dope. Side note: the black and white video which has all three spitting in the studio, somehow makes the song sound even better. Go ahead and watch it again and let me know if you agree.

Stick ‘Em Up – Again, Malik and Jamal try to convince the listener that they’re teen thugs and come off sounding like Onyx Jr. on this one. Colin Wolfe gets his second production credit of the evening, and unfortunately, this one doesn’t fair as well as his first one. So naturally, unbelievable rhymes + weak production = hot garbage.

Understand The Flow – Dallas Austin gets his first production credit of the night, and actually creates a pretty solid backdrop for Illegal. Of course they don’t do much with it, but that’s beside the point.

On Da M.I.C. – Malik and Jamal are joined by Diggin’ In The Crates members, A.G. and Lord Finesse (who also gets credit for the instrumental) on this posse joint. Malik and Jamal stay consistent, as they don’t give us anything worth quoting on this song. And it almost feels like Andre and Finesse dumb down their verses in attempted not to embarrass their snot-nosed hosts. I’m assuming Finesse didn’t want to waste one of his better instrumentals on this malnourished cypher, because his instrumental is pretty bland as well.

Ban Da Iggidy – When Das EFX hit in 1992 with their stutter (or “iggidy”) style, many of your favorite rappers jumped on the bandwagon and copied the trend (i.e. Common and Ice Cube, to name a few). And while it worked for Das (for a short period of time) it was kind of annoying to hear everyone biting adapting the style. So, when I saw the title of this song I thought this might be an interesting concept. But it’s not. Instead, it’s Illegal trying to convince the listener to forget about the “iggidy” and get with their new “uzo” style, which basically equates to them ending each word with “uzo” instead of “iggidy”, and it sounds fucking ridiculous! Dallas Austin serves up another solid instrumental, it just needs a better concept and stronger rhymes placed over it.

Lights, Camera, Action – Trash.

Interlude – This was a pretty awkward and an unnecessary interlude.

If U Want It – The final song of the evening has Malik and Jamal discussing one of hip-hop’s most popular subjects: bumping uglies. Illegal doesn’t bring anything new or worthwhile to the subject, and their hook (which sounds like something Naughty By Nature could have come up with, which might not be a far reach, considering Treach was Malik’s mentor) is complete garbage. Speaking of garbage, the Cool V/Biz Markie instrumental is not far from being trash, either.

The title of the album would lead one to believe that there would be some serious content and/or substance to the songs on The Untold Truth, but that’s not the case. The first song on the album (“Back In The Day”) gets personal, as Malik and Jamal recall the elements of street life that helped mold their hardcore mindsets, but that’s about it. From that point on the duo take the listener on an uninspired ride, firing gimmicky shots at other kid acts, occasionally dropping sub par freestyle rhymes, and posing like hardcore-drug-dealing-gun-toting thugs, which doesn’t sound remotely believable. And the big name producers whom I thought would give the puberty stricken duo some fire production, only manage to collectively deliver on a third of the tracks on The Untold Truth.

Ultimately, The Untold Truth is poo, and Malik and Jamal’s truths remain untold.

-Deedub

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Tha Alkaholiks – 21 & Over (August 24, 1993)

It’s fair to say that west coast hip-hop in the late eighties and early nineties was dominated by gangster rap. With groups like Ice-T, N.W.A and Above The Law, that hardcore style of hip-hop proved to be lucrative and quickly brought on a bunch of copycats that bit the style, even if it the street life wasn’t necessarily their reality. But there were still some that went against the grain. One of the first to stand alone was Compton native, King Tee. King Tee had more of a playful/party/comical style, but was still respected by all of his west coast gangster colleagues. And even though he never gained the same commercial success as his peers, he definitely stayed true to himself and gained a significant cult follow (which reminds me that I have to find his first three albums). After establishing his own name, King Tee would start the Likwit crew, and the first group he would help get a deal would be Tha Alkaholiks.

Tha Alkaholiks were the three-man Los Angeles based crew consisting of J-Ro, Tash (who is originally from Cincinnati. Ohio) and the DJ/producer, E-Swift (who was born in Georgia, raised in Ohio and later moved to Cali). The trio would sign a deal with the budding hip-hop label, Loud Records (which had a distribution deal with RCA at the time), and released their debut album, 21 & Over, in the summer of 1993.

If you’re not familiar with the Alkaholiks, or can’t tell by the group’s name, the trio’s whole persona was a party vibe with light-hearted rhymes centered around drinking. 21 & Overwasn’t a commercial success, but it did earn the group some critical acclaim. AllMusic.com even said that it’s “perhaps the quintessential West Coast party album, as well as one of the most promising debut albums of the ’90s, regardless of genre”. With praises like these, I sometimes wonder why Tha Liks were never able to garner the same level of crossover appeal as say a Meth and Redman. It damn sure wasn’t because they didn’t have talent.

Likwit21 & Over opens with a slick instrumental with a dope flute loop (not to be confused with a fruit loop) scattered throughout, as J-Ro, Tash and their buddy King Tee, take turns spitting funny metaphors and clever one liners over it. This was the second single released from the album, and a fresh way to kick things off.

Only When I’m Drunk – The Liks keep the good times rolling, as E-Swift hooks up the same Whole Darn Family loop that EPMD previously used for “It’s Your Thing”, and that Jay-Z would later use for his duet with Foxy Brown, “Ain’t No Nigga”, but I digress. J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift use the wicked bass line to take turns sharing more light-hearted drunken rhymes (J-Ro even conjures up a “I had too much to drink” burp during his first verse, which is hi-larious). This one still sounds great twenty plus years later.

Last Call – The boys continue to play off of their group name with the song title and hook, but J-Ro and Tash (and less so, E-Swift) are on some straight emcee shit, as they talk shit and spew random rhymes. I’m not sure how I feel about E-Swift’s beat on this one, but J-Ro and Tash still manage to entertain with strong rhymes.

Can’t Tell Me Shit – This is pretty much a J-Ro solo joint. I say pretty much, because E-Swift starts the song off with a quick 8 bars, before J-Ro comes in and adds three of his own verses to end things. Once again, E-Swift provides a less than stellar instrumental for he and J-Ro to rhymes over, but J-Ro manages to make lemonade out of the lemon he was given.

Turn Tha Party Out – For those who don’t know, The Loot Pack was a three-man crew out of Oxnard, California, consisting of DJ Romes, Wildchild and most importantly notably, Madlib (who I have always thought of as the underrated west coast version of J-Dilla). They stop by to join the Liks on this hot mess of a posse cut. And when I say hot mess, I mean hot mess. From the generic Loot Pack produced instrumental (I wonder how much input Madlib had in the production of this one) to the sloppy and corny rhymes, this song was an absolute…hot mess.

Bullshit – King Tee and E-Swift hook up a decent instrumental that King Tee and J-Ro take turns clowning and talking random shit over. This was a chill track, suitable for listening to while sipping a glass of wine on a weeknight.

Soda Pop – J-Ro takes a seat for this one, as E-Swift, Tash and special guest, Field Trip, each spit forgettable verses over an even more forgettable E-Swift produced instrumental.

Make Room – Ah, now this is more like it. This was lead single from 21 & Over, and a great way to introduce the world to the three-man crew. J-Ro and Tash sound sharp as razors over E-Swift’s bangin’ backdrop. Well done, gents.

Mary Jane – Apparently alcohol isn’t the Liks only vice. Over a minimal and slightly dark Loot Pack produced instrumental, J-Ro and Tash step away from the drinking clichés and punch lines and get creative with the metaphors, as they paint weed (aka Mary Jane) as a woman that they both love. Props to J-Ro and Tash for the well-thought out and executed concept.

Who Dem Niggas – E-Swift’s instrumental starts off sounding like it’s going to be fire, then the drum beat drops in, and everything falls apart. Speaking of falling apart, Threat continues to do the same on yet another cameo, as he joins J-Ro, Tash and E-Swift on this one and stinks up the cypher with sub par bars. It’s almost like Threat pulls J-Ro and Tash into his sunken place, because their bars on this one are trash as well. Or maybe E-Swift’s lame instrumental is to blame for all four emcees lack of inspiration. Regardless, this was a terrible ending to the evening.

J-Ro and Tash prove to be a formidable one-two punch on 21 & Over (and no, I didn’t forget about E-Swift. I purposely left him out of the equation). No, you won’t get mind-blowing lyricism or a ton of substance from the two, but their witty punch lines, light heart rhymes and college frat boy sensibilities will keep you entertained, and make you chuckle from time to time, even with most of the production falling in the middle of the road. Props to the trio for having the restraint to keep the track count to ten. It’s good to know that Tha Alkaholiks don’t over indulge on everything.

-Deedub

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