Thanks to Jaz of “Cold Rock Da’ Spot” and his infamous “Fat Tapes” segment for puttin’ me on to this record. Little is known, or can be found on the ‘net regarding this 1992 release from the Cleveland trio better known as Strugglin’ Souls. Matter of fact, if I’m not mistaken, this was actually a “cassette only” release (however, I did see that it’s now available on Amazon.Com for prettty cheap)….similar to Shazzy’s long-lost follow-up, “Ghettosburg Address”. “Manic Depression” was distributed by an under the radar label, “Crazy Vibe”, which was also a subsidiary to the home of artists such as MC Breed and Insane Poetry, “Ichiban Records”. Whereas, Cleveland’s Bone Thugs N Harmony’s style was more “West Coast than East Coast”, it definitely made Ohio more than just a blip on the Hip Hop radar. However, Strugglin’ Souls album comes off more “East Coast” based. So much in fact, that it’s hard not to mistake this trio as another New York group that’s heavily reliant on that ol’ boom-bap flavor. “Manic Depression” evokes shades of E.S.P.’s “Valoompadoom Pink”, which I reviewed earlier last week. Even though this was the trio’s only album, it was dope enough to at least warrant a follow-up EP or maybe even a few 12″ singles. Sadly, “Manic Depression” feel into the rut that similar early 90′s crews such as Capital Tax, Brokin English Klick and the Hoodratz fell victim to. In a nutshell, dope East Coast flavor, yet it lacked “punch” and never really stood out. Hell, amidst my many “shoppin’ for tapes” visits, I really don’t even remember seeing this album on shelves.
While Strugglin’ Souls do choose to concentrate on social “ills” within their music, they don’t come across overly “hardcore”, choosing rather to let the lyrics speak for themselves over East Coast tinged production courtesy of Lay-Low. The majority of the beats on the album are funky enough to keep you dialed in throughout “Manic Depression”. The obvious highlight of the album for me was the bouncy production of “Betta Dayz”, an uplifting yet extremely funky track. If you had been sleeping on this crew just as I did….wake up, it’s overall a fairly decent effort that sports a heavy East-Coast flavor.
Authenticity! If I had to choose one single term to describe House Of Pain and their well-respected legacy, it had to be authenticity. Let me disregard Everlast, his affiliation with Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate and his 1990 debut “Forever Everlasting” (not a bad album if you’d ask me) for a slight second and dwell on the formula that made this ensemble find their spot in the Hip Hop cosmos. Everlast, his old buddy Danny Boy and DJ Lethal acted as “white” as it gets, sporting worn out baseball caps and Celtics jerseys, talking about malt liquor, crashing parties, getting smoked out, and hooliganism as a sport (although hooliganism has a totally different approach when you grew up in Europe and loved soccer). What their Soul Assassin brothers from Cypress Hill had already manifested under their Hispanic umbrella seemed to work without any friction for this crew and what they called Irish pride. Well, I don’t know much about the components mentioned above (read: I don’t get smoked out, I don’t beat up people with no apparent reason and I love to rock “fresh” cloths); all I know is whenever I hear “Jump Around” (the original version; I love the Pete Rock remix but the original’s always worked for me. By the way Eric, what about a Pete Rock Remix-Special? I think a lot of people would enjoy that…), something moves within me and….although I’m way too old and way too cool to actually “jump around”, my imagination runs loose and I start to picture myself hopping around the room like a kangaroo with no remorse (pretty weird, I know)
(Fine Malt Lyrics) is very good album: The production is Muggs at his best (not that he produced the album: It just sounds like he did!) with gritty drum-patterns and gloomy sound bites, displaying a diversity of detail. Everlast steals the show, remaining very likeable (Oh just another thought Eric: you were absolutely right about your assumptions on Serch and Pete Nice!), while Danny Boy did a confused version of Sen Dog, acting and sounding silly. Low and behold, I prefer this over any Cypress Hill album because it’s dope. I just have to find a way to get that disturbing image of me hopping around out of my head…-Rasul
Sounding even much younger than his actual age, 15 year old Chi Ali was the last entry into the Native Tongue family. With elder statesmen such as A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep and De La Soul “setting the bar” of the expectant quality to emerge from the camp, Chi Ali had some big shoes to fill in order to continue on with tradition. In my opinion, Chi always came off as a mini-Dres from Black Sheep, kinda’ witty yet very cock-sure in his gaming with the ladies. Thankfully, Chi had an up and coming Corona, Queens crew (The Beatnuts) supplying him with some of the dopest tracks in the biz back in ’92. Very much like the production that the Native Tongues favored, the Beatnuts relied on hard-hitting drum patterns and well-plucked sampling to lay the foundation for Chi’s “I wanna’ be older than I actually am” rhymes.
On “The Fabulous….”, Chi chose to speak on his ever-changing adolescence while also proving that he’s never too young to pull….in his words “all the fly honeys”, as witnessed on his biggest hit, “Age Ain’t Nuthin’ But A #”. There’s also your usual braggadocio and freestyle joints like “Step Up”, but it’s “Funky Lemonade” (peep the Beatnuts remix as well) and “Shorty Said Nah” (with the Guru vocal sample from “Just To Get A Rep” providing the hook) that found Chi Ali most effective lyrically. Even though much of the lyrics are juvenile….as expected, it’s a shame that this would be Chi’s only LP, kid definitely had a bright future ahead of him. For all those who don’t know, Chi was convicted of a murder charge, subjecting him to incarceration…..although, I’m not quite sure if he’s still serving time or not.
The true highlight of the album is the Beatnuts’ production as they provided Chi with an abundance of head-nodders to keep you vibin’ regardless of Chi’s lyrics. Matter of fact, “The Fabulous Chi Ali” along with Tim Dog’s “Penicillin On Wax” (his ’93 follow-up, “Doe Or Die” isn’t that far behind either) are two albums that feature some of the best production to emerge from their decade, even though the lyricism may have been sub-par. But, in the end, Chi’s nasal, high-pitched voice (believe me, it’s not like he could have avoided puberty!) and his ”iight” lyrical delivery held the album back at certain moments. However, still worth the listen or the purchase.
Time to “Come Clean” (cue up the water-dripping effect from Primo on the Jeru classic), up until 2006 I’d never even heard Lord Finesse’s first two albums, “The Funky Technician” nor “Return Of The Funky Man”. Although, I did shell over the $8.99 for his EP slash LP, “The Awakening” the same day that I also picked up Mad Skillz’ debut “From Where!?”. In what may very well be a cardinal sin for any “blogger” that professes to know “two shits” about the history of Hip-Hop, I (as Jim Carrey so eloquently stated in “Dumb & Dumber”) have “totally redeemed myself” much in part to the Lord Finesse discography that Oh Word graciously extended to the Hip Hop community a few months ago. Thankfully, I’ve been able to study much of the man’s production work, and I must say..Finesse is extremely gifted on the boards. However, it’s lyrically that I’m not completely sold on this integral fixture within’ the D.I.T.C.
By the time “The Return….” was released, Lord Finesse’s name had already begun to bubble within underground circles due to the success of his debut, “Return Of The Funky Man”. In the long run, however, it was Finesse’s production for the likes of Biggie, SWV as well as work for fellow D.I.T.C. members that truly allowed him to stake his claim as one of the dopest producers in Hip Hop. On “Return”, Finesse was at his best while rhyming over the dusty, grimey breaks that weren’t quite as up-tempo as say….”Hey, Look At Shorty”. Lyrically, much of Finesse’s rhymes focused on “how funky he was” or were aimed at all the naysayers who doubted him once before only to now jock him for the artist that he has become. Basically, Finesse’s rhymes contained of an array of shots fired at all the cats and honeys that caught a sudden case of the “Vapors”.
With an ill production line up in tow, to include Diamond D and Showbiz as well as frequent Ice T collaborator, DJ Alladin…the majority of the cuts are extremely well produced and offer the listener a different taste for everyone’s palate. However, it’s the Percee P and A.G. assisted cut, “Yes You May” that will really get you salivating as the track develops into one gigantic “lyrical free for all” as each of the aforementioned emcees succeed in ripping the mic to shreds.
So, is “Return Of The Funky Man”, Finesse’s best work to date? Ehhh, I’m not quite sure as I’ve always been partial to “The Awakening”, even though the album lacked in direction at times. One thing’s for sure though, whatever Finesse may have lacked lyrically he sure as hell over-compensated with his ill style of production!