Hip Hop has changed drastically since De La Soul’s CLASSIC debut “3 Feet High & Rising” nearly 18 years ago; yet with each album since the trio has managed to reinvent themselves over and over again. Whether it was proclaiming the death of the D.A.I.S.Y. Age or crafting a song using other artists’ already popular lyrics, De La has undoubtedly been the most original and creative “group” in Hip Hop. However, with each release De La Soul had to endure the fans’ burden to save Hip Hop from the inevitable depths of blatant commercialism. De La’s fourth opus “Stakes Is High” departed from the quirky trio’s previous constructions in both style and substance. Noticeably missing was the presence of the always original and comedic Prince Paul, the introspective moments of cuts such as “Keepin’ The Faith” (those damn whistles!) or “I Am I Be” tracks which included lyrics that most of the time needed deciphering before unveiling truly conceptual and introspective “gems”. “Stakes..” was an album that found De La more as extroverts rather than introverts. First off, “Supa Emcees” was a translation of the public’s bombardment to the overexposure of the “wack emcee” while De La posed the question “Hey, whatever happened to the MC?”….and who can forget Trugoy’s venting on the album’s unforgettable title cut? “I’m sick of bitches shakin’ asses/I’m sick of talking about blunts/Sick of Versace glasses/ Sick of slang/Sick of half-ass award shows/Sick of name brand clothes/Sick of R & B bitches over bullshit tracks….”. Damn, imagine if the lyrics to “Stakes Is High” were composed in present day, wouldn’t that be some shit?
However, with “Stakes Is High” you couldn’t help but wonder if De La was “giving in” to their lack of record sales over the years and decided to “conform” a bit more. For the first time they chose to recruit outside producers such as Ogee, Skeff Anslem and the late Jay Dee. Also, Mase is noticeably absent from the album, and songs like “Wonce Again Long Island” even sounded…..*gasp*…….average, compared to De La’s usual standards. If you add, the sultry “4 More” with it’s Zhane assisted chorus…..(wait a minute, isn’t that a contradiction? “I’m sick of R & B bitches over bullshit tracks”…..hmmmm…) to the mix it’s nearly enough to make the average De La fan throw up inside their mouths. The thing to remember here though is even an average De La jam was better than most of the shit released along those same timelines. “Stakes” was just a different type of album for De La Soul, in my eyes, it was just a small bump in the road for De La as they follow the path to becoming one of Hip Hop’s greatest groups of all time…..but, this small bump prohibited “Stakes” from inclusion on my “Top 100″….-Eric
Equipped with a rhyme flow that was as menacing as a fully loaded Glock, Smoothe Da Hustler (along with his brother/his ace Trigger Da Gambler) blasted outta’ Brownsville, Broklyn with the opening success of “Broken Language”-an unmistakable, chorus-less list of “self-descriptions” that easily grabbed the title belt for “Underground Single Of The Year” in 1995. With his debut LP “Once Upon A Time In America”, Smoothe wisely attempted to expand his repertoire beyond the one-trick pony show that “Broken Language” may have suggested, all the while exhibiting a few growing pains during the process of crafting a cohesive full length. With on point sequencing and convicing interludes (i.e, kids taking part in real-life street activity, Smoothe schooling baby brother, Moms schooling Smoothe) add a nice “flow” to the album even when the actual listening material may have fallen short of initial expectations. As displayed on R & B ish’ tracks such as “Only Human” indepth lyricism didn’t always salvage the cheesier moments of usually “sound” producer D.R. Period’s attempts at commercialism. The same could have been said for the album’s second single “Hustler’s Theme” which revived Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly gem “Freddie’s Dead” for the the umpteenth time equating to an unimpressive result.
However, for anyone who’s ever heard Smoothe and his crew The Nexx Level Ruckus Clique shine on mid-nineties mixtapes already knew what it was. As displayed on the down-tempo underground jam “F*&K Whatcha’ heard” Smoothe and crew stick to their bread and butter which is rapid fire delivery over hardcore beats that we grew to expect from D.R. Period. Other notable cuts that followed the same lines as “Broken Language” were “Dollar Bill” (which also featured the distinctive singing-MC steez of D.V. alias Christ) and “My Brother My Ace” which all featured too brief appearances from Smoothe’s brother Trigger Da Gambler, thus making a case for a more substantial serving of family chemistry. The works of the duo also make you wonder if this album would have made more waves had it been crafted following the blueprint of Rae & Ghost’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx”. The only reason that “Once Upon A Time…” failed to make my “Top 100″ was due to it’s production inconsistencies. Talent notwithstanding, Smoothe just couldn’t hustle his way past the aforementioned odes to “mass appeal”. Though it did fail to pull off “classic debut” status “Once Upon A Time…” did bring back a few added dimensions that served as a dark narrative through the eyes of a young hustler with street smarts….-Eric
Guru starts off “Kollage” saying: “Eh, yo! This is Bahamadia’s “Kollage” a collection of lyrical and musical art that brings forth her masterful contribution to the Hip Hop world”…pretty hefty stuff I’d say. No doubt, aided with production from an emcee’s wet dream (Ski, DJ Premier, N.O. Joe, The Roots, Da Beatminerz, etc.) “Kollage” could have been that one tape that no matter how “banged up” it became you still can’t let it go: you know, the tape with the titles rubbed off, all cracked up, been with you since before time….but damnit it still plays fine! To mention the fact that Bahamadia was a female in Hip Hop was unnecessary, you had to pay more attention to the fact that she could go rhyme for rhyme with the best emcees know to man, after all she was one of em’! A one-time member of the GangStarr Foundation, Bahamadia made her presence known on a variety of singles and albums the bombarded the underground scene before “Kollage” actually dropped, including “Total Wreck” (from Guru’s 94′ sampler “Guru Presents Ill Kid Records”) as well as Big Kap’s female posse cut “The Ladies”. Not to mention, she was also featured on a duet with Guru called “Respect The Architect” from Guru’s “Jazzmattaz Vol. II”. “Kollage” allowed us to witness Bahamadia live up to all our expectations, with songs like “Total Wreck”, “Dat Freak Sh*t”, “Innovation” and the beautifully Primo produced “3 Tha’ Hard Way”. My only major beef with “Kollage” was Bahamadia’s voice. At times, it seemed as if the backing production was in the forefront while the listener almost strained to take in what Bahamadia was actually saying due to her almost mumbled flow delivered at the lowest decibel. There’s just not a whole lot of emotion in her delivery and she almost sounds unconvincing at cetain moments, but still….you can’t hate on this album as a whole. The good more than outweighs the bad, however, as dope as “Kollage” was it never really gave me the nudge to follow up on any of Bahamadia’s future releases….-Eric