In a October ’91 issue of “The Source“, when asked why he choose to follow in the footsteps of his brother (Biz Markie) and pursue a career in the music industry Diamond Shell stated:
“I was on tour with my brother, Biz, right after “Just A Friend” came out. We went to a mall in Raleigh, North Carolina. Out of nowhere, around fifteen hundred kids came around us…..just touching and grabbing, then they started pulling. It got hectic so we tried to run but we couldn’t so we went into this Foot Locker. There were so many people crammed in the store that you couldn’t stand on the floor. I had to stand on a bench to have someplace to put my feet. Biz is a crowd pleaser so he was standing down on the floor signing autographs, enjoying it. Finally, the police came and cleared everybody out. Right then, I elbowed Biz and said, “Yo, I wanna’ make a record”
Obviously, fame is a mutha’. Also, having a brother who is now a legend in Hip-Hop could also weigh heavy on a younger brother while trying to live up to the expectations that have been placed upon him due to his bloodlines. Strangely, when I look at Diamond Shell’s physical appearance he reminds me of a young Zevlove X (now, MF Doom). Lyrically, Diamond is eerily reminiscent of Kwest The Madd Lad, and I mean these two are “dead-on” with both their vocal tones and delivery. Problem is, I couldn’t tell you who’s been around longer, even though Kwest’s debut didn’t drop until 1996. That’s here nor there, the fact of the matter is Diamond’s debut was a pretty darn good record. Good enough to at least warrant a sophomore effort, one would imagine. Sadly, “The Grand Imperial Diamond Shell” would be the last full length LP that we’d hear from Biz’ little brother.
Produced entirely by Biz Markie and his DJ, Cool V, “The Grand Imperial…” is a fun listen….somewhat dated….but fun. Most of the beats are sample driven with hooks that mock tunes that have already been popularized such as Rick James’ “Mary Jane” on the title cut. Also, Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” gets lifted for my favorite track on the album, “Captain Spekin”. You see, it’s quite difficult, reviewing an album that was released in 1991 that is….especially if you didn’t hear the album until a few years, or in my case, a decade after it was released. Even though us Blogger’s like to act like we know something and are quick to “breakdown” an album from start to finish, calling an album “wack” or “outdated” is unfair to the artist. Of course, the majority of the samples on “Grand Imperial” sound dated, but if I’d heard the album in ’91 would the samples have sounded fresh to me? Maybe or maybe not, I hope you see my point here.
On the microphone, Diamond Shell is a 100% bonafide story-teller. Not a “storyteller” in the Slick Rick sense, but a story teller in a….well…..Kwest The Madd Lad sense. Most of Diamond’s tales are filled with comedic one-liners, crazy metaphors and twisted endings that equate for a lyrical adventure filled with laughs. Surprisingly, the most disturbing factor on this album is Biz’ involvement. Hold up, I know that Biz is a legend in the game for his contributions to the art-form but honestly, there’s not one Biz record aside from “Goin’ Off” that I can stomach. Twelve cuts of the B-I-Z is a tough listen after a while. For instance, “Bugged Out Day At The Powerplay” should have NEVER been the album’s opener, it would have been much better served as the “Outro” or an “Intermission” of sorts. The cut is definitely a freestyle, which in Biz’ case isn’t necessarily a good thing. Also, Biz’ re-working of the hook for ”Oh What A Night” isn’t as catchy as “Just A Friend”, it’s straight up disastrous and annoying. I would have preferred hearing strictly Diamond Shell vocals on his own record. Who knows? If Diamond wasn’t Biz’ brother would he have struck a deal with “Cold Chillin”? If I was an A & R or talent scout I’d say “hell yes”, but in the end the album….while solid…doesn’t cut the cake as it feels more like a Biz project than an album crafted with Diamond Shell at the helm.
As you all well know, I caught on to this Hip-Hop thing a little late in the game. Not so much late, but it was 1990 until I became a full-fledged, strictly Hip Hop kinda’ character. So, I missed Lyte’s two prior offerings “Lyte As A Rock” and “Eyes On This” although, I do remember catching a glimpse of Lyte’s “Stop, Look Listen” on an episode of “Yo!” once or twice. But it wasn’t really until 1991 when I first heard Lyte’s tale of a boyfriend turned alcholic, “Poor Georgie” that I decided to really check up on her work. In many a die-hard fan’s eyes, Lyte is the female emcee of choice when the question of “Who’s the hypest chick to ever pick up the mic”? is posed. And rightfully so, even though my favorite album of all-time from a female is Queen Latifah’s “Black Reign” (sentimental reasons only, trust me).
I can recall “Act Like You Know” receiving much flack from Lyte’s fans as it somewhat of a drastic departure from the hardcore persona showcased on her previous two albums. Me, however, this was my first glimpse of MC Lyte and to honest….I liked it. Totally revamping her image, Lyte released “When In Love” as the first single. Produced by the ultra syrupy Wolf & Epic production duo (more on that later) this cut was sure to raise an eyebrow for fans expecting more of the flavor unleashed on “10% Dis” or “Cha Cha Cha”. Featuring a smooth R & B belted hook and production that would have been better served for the Jade’s and EnVogue’s of the world in 1991, “When In Love” failed miserably. So much in fact that I doubt that Lyte ever recouped much of her fan base that was lost due to this track that catered to urban radio a little too much.
It wasn’t until the release of “Poor Georgie” that Lyte’s audience was like “Yeah, this is half-way there, but it’s still not the Lyte that I remember”. Sampling the Supremes and Michael Jackson, “Poor Georgie” was butter to me, that piano loop has always been one of my favorite samples and Mary J. Blige even made it better with her usage for “I Love You” from her 1995 classic, “My Life”. The hardcore Lyte was still there, trapped behind the make-up, lip gloss and eyeliner (even though it was a good look for her) as witnessed on both of the King of Chill produced cuts, “Search 4 The Lyte” and “Can You Dig It?”. Even the Audio Two and 45 King’s produced tracks sufficed, it’s the Wolf and Epic joints that found Lyte…for lack of better words…”exploring her sexuality”.
Just a quick tidbit regarding Wolf & Epic. Did you know that one-half of the production duo, Brett “Epic” Mazur was also later produced the “one-hit wonder” group better known as Crazy Town? I’m sure you remember those cats, how can you forget the hook to their biggest hit to date, “Butterfly”? “Come my lady/Come, come my lady/You’re my butterfly/Sugar, baby”, wack now…. I know, but don’t front like you weren’t vibin’ to it back in 2000. Not to get off the topic, but I think I saw Crazytown’s lead singer on a recent show of VH1′s “Celebrity Rehab”….hmmmm. Okay, getting back to Lyte and wrapping things up, peep the album, regardless of Lyte’s failed R & B attempts. Too bad First Priority couldn’t just go back, lose the bullsh*t and keep the hardcore tracks and re-release “Act Like You Know” as a more condensed, cohesive effort. Yeah, that’ll be the day right?
In 1991, Kool Kim & Hass G burst onto the scene sporting a similar vibe that rivaled that of their more established Native Tongue camp (De La Soul, ATCQ & The Jungle Brothers). In what more than rubbed a few “hardrocks” the wrong way, the UMC’s scored an interesting and unique hit with “Blue Cheese” ( those damn whistles!!) Although, I’m not quite sure if it was indeed their debut single or if it may have been “One To Grow On”. The UMC’s were an acquired taste, for lack of better wording, as both Hass G & Kool Kim essentially were very nonthreatening and carefree on the mic (but very enjoyable…if that makes any sense). “Fruits Of Nature” also happens to be one of the best debuts and one of my favorite albums from 1991. Quite simply, the more you listen to “Fruits Of Nature” the more you grow to appreciate the jazzy loops intertwined with the melodic and “sing songy” wordplay of both the aforementioned emcees. Released on the ever so popular and now defunct (thanks Serch!) Wild Pitch label, the production duties on this album were split between Hass G (who also surprisingly mixed the album as well) and RNS (whom, if I recall produced a few cuts on Shyheim’s debut “Aka The Rugged Child” as well) While “Fruits Of Nature” may not be for everyone (particularly fans of N.W.A., Ice-T and so forth) would one dare to say that this album may have opened a few doors for groups like say…Digable Planets or Souls Of Mischief, who capitalized on same formula that the UMCs held true to….well, at least up until the release of their sophomore follow up, “Unleashed”. With “Unleashed”, I feel as if the UMC’s tried too hard to keep up with the Onyx’, Hoodratz, and any “new-jack” Timbo sporting, Karl Kani vest-wearing hardrock that was so common in 1993. However, as much as I hated the album at first, I’ve been bumping a few tracks from “Unleashed” as of late, especially “Whoa Now”.
“By now everyone knows the story of Two Kings In A Cipher, but to make a long story short here goes: Two young Howard students are introduced to one another and later go on to form a group. Those two students names were Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie & Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence…yes, of Puffy’s Hitmen production team. Needless to say, I’m sure that not only did those two make Puffy a butt load of money but it’s probably also safe to say they only made their pockets fatter in the process. Now, I’m sure some smartass is going to post a comment or drop a c-box comment stating “you know that D-Dot was the Madd Rapper and dropped “Tell Em’ Why You Madd Son”….okay, great! Anyway, back to the duo’s debut “From Pyramids To Projects” which still contains elements that sound funky fresh today. First and foremost, Ron & D-Dot really had a nice lyrical chemistry, you can definitely hear a HUGE Rakim influence in their wordplay and flow. “Definition Of A King” starts the album off nicely, with it’s 5% discussion and “do the knowledge” mind state. Without a doubt what pushed me to purchase this album was Two Kings single “Movin‘ On Em” which utilizes the same track as on Positive K’s “I Gotta Man”. It’s kinda’ hard to believe that this album dropped in 91′, I mean sh*t that was 16 years ago!!! Damn, album’s like this sure make me feel old!! “Pyramids To Projects” is really an enjoyable listen and is sure to take you back to the days of Cross Colours and Hoodies.”
Note From The Editor: First off, I need to give credit where credit is due. Much thanks go out to Vincent Lopez of THIMK, who has developed what is probably my favorite site out there right now. In case you don’t know Vincent has been putting in the time and effort to scan every copy of his “Source” back issues (yeah, the FULL issue) and converting them to .PDF format for everyone’s collectible and viewing pleasure. Vince, you saved me countless Ebay dollars and I think I speak for most of my visitors when I say we truly appreciate you and this brilliant idea. And, if it wasn’t for you this whole “I Love The 90′s” series that Trav and I conjured up would be much more difficult. Why didn’t someone else think of this years ago?