“The Underwater Album”: 1994 is considered one of the most fruitful and enriching years in the history of Hip-Hop. The Wu-Tang Clan had officially redefined the industry’s standards and Nas delivered a milestone drawing comparisons to icons of the late 80s, along with Mr. D. O. Double G. raising hell on the left coast. You could literally smell the transformation Hip Hop was going through and the valuable quantity of good albums being released was increasing. At these days and times, the words slept-on or underrated would not distinguish the way Boogiemonsters’ “Riders Of The Storm” was decisively overlooked. These were some “college-dudes” who’ve had met at the Virginia State University and had decided the world definitely needs another AvantGarde musical journey, sounding somewhere between “The Pharcyde” on crystal meth (well, at times Pharcyde did sound like they were on crystal meth!?) and Sydney Poitier on “Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner”: You heard some dazed suburban kids voicing inscrutable anger and depression about a cruel world they hadn’t figured out yet, reflecting nuances of being lost and forgotten and on a hunt for fallen spirituality.
The “New World Order” was a term I was familiar with but the Boogiemonsters were the first collective to dedicate four-minute-songs to its concept. They offered alternatives with their nerdy prophecies, questioning the fundamentals of our society (The devil sees the world as a girl from the back / Eying, sighing, dying to get a crack at the middle /). This is the reason nobody would check for them back then! I knew this girl back in my old days who would always hit me with the most obscure suggestions what songs and albums I should get and the “Riders Of The Storm” was one of them. I would listen to a couple of tracks (”Recognized Thresholds of Negative Stress”, “Mark of the Beast” and “Riders of the Storm”) only to grow tired of the whole vibe and throw the CD away. But this particular CD had a life of its own and every time I would look for such and such, I ended up putting this album back on in my stereo and I started to develop a certain appreciation for it. That’s when I fell in love with tracks like “Strange” and “Muzik” were they portrayed music as a woman before Common dropped “I Used To Love Her” a couple of months later that year.
Like I said, the subject matters could feel annoying at times and although the music turned out to be more than flawless, the overall feeling of this album stayed refreshing. Now that I think about it, this must be the crown-jewel for backpack extravaganzas with its spaced-out format! When the Boogiemonsters released their sophomore “God Sound” in 1997 (by then, the four-man crew had turned to only two MCs: Apparently, the other two guys couldn’t continue to live the high-life of a boogie monster because of their personal convictions and religious beliefs!?), the freshness was long lost and had drifted away and after re-listening to their first album, I understood the generic quality of it. More than anything, this album is timeless…-Rasul
By now, I’m sure that the majority of you devout Hip-Hop fanatics have either heard the first single released from “Ism and Blues”, “L.I. Groove” or can at least remember the video from back in the nine-quad. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t extremely impressed with the debut track from the album, especially when you considered that the trio of Taste, DL and Six Seven all hailed from Strong Island, which at the time was home to the likes of De La Soul, Leaders Of The New School and Public Enemy,to name a few. So any crew that emerged from Long Island had to be on some ol’ next iddish. Sadly, Hard 2 Obtain were well above average lyricists, but not exactly “ground-breakers” by any means.
However, at least they had good taste in production-the Stimulated Dummies or “SD50′s) were eminently on “some ol’ next sh*t” for sure! Unfortunately, the majority of the album’s cuts all sounded distinctly similar, due to the repetitive choruses, production and gravel-voiced flows. Yet, throughout the LP, there are a few tracks that are sure to reach out and pull you in, namely “Heels Without Souls” which was an eloquent diss aimed at the proverbial “bad seed”, the dude who always acted out of place until he was locked up or killed. Be sure to peep the Monk Higgin’s “Black Fox” loop on the track as well. The DJ Nastee produced banger, “Ghetto Diamond” was another sure-fire standout cut about all the dips who inhabited the “12 Block” (H20′s dwelling). Bouncing lyrics back and forth, the emcees even stole a page from the Minnie Ripperton classic, “Lovin You”. Plus, the strictly freestyle joint, “Babble On”, added a much needed sugary dessert to your ears. But, in the end, the album just contained a bit much “filler”.
It seemed historically unusual that talented lyricists, who sold their souls to a major label, would deliver an LP with mediocre tracks that outweighed the “good stuff”, even when representing the Strong Isle. I guess it’s like Rakim stated best, “It ain’t where you’re from/it’s where you’re at”.
Following up on their extremely dope debut EP, “Intoxicated Demons”, the crazy trio of New York City beat-diggers returned in ’94 with their first full length LP that I wouldn’t hesitate to say…is now one of my all-time favorites. This album was a 17-track journey of breaks, bragging and boasting, and drunken rhyme flows that would make Ol’ Dirty Bastard (who the group was obviously a fan of) blush. The tracks, for the most part, had next to no concept and the track titles are seemingly meaningless as well, which makes the album one big party….sounding more like a huge freestyle session rather than an orchestrated album. The biggest surprise on the album was the lyrical performances of Psycho Les, Ju Ju and Fashion who seemed to have improved drastically between this finished product and their debut EP. Lyrically, these nuts aren’t really saying much, but they each had their own unique vocal presence that was able to withstand being overshadowed by the incredible beats that they created.
The best of the bunch on this album were “Are You Ready”, which featured “one of the fiercest emcees” (per Treach) in the game, Grand Puba, and “Get Funky” a pass the mic free-for-all that also contained one of my favorite lines from the album “I’m tryin’ ta’ get money like Felipe Lopez” (remember him?). The trio also seemed to be very familiar with the Wu-Tang catalogue as samples from both O.D.B. and Method Man were jerked for the chorus on the tracks “Straight Jacket” and “Hit Me With That”, respectively. The biggest disappointment of the album was the all too brief “Let Off A Couple”, which contained one of the dopest loops EVER sampled, but it’s usage was entirely too short for such a dope break, clocking in at only a minute and a half.
“Street Level” is quickly scaling my list of “Top Albums” finding itself amongst such favorites such as “Illmatic“, “Mecca & The Soul Brother”, “Livin‘ Proof” and “Ready To Die” to name a few. With hard hitting production and hilarious yet entertaining flows showcased by all the members of the trio, this album truly has no noticeable weak spots. Although, if you asked me to name my least favorite cut it would have to be “Yeah, You Get Props” (“Props” was definitely an overused term on the album). Hell, even I have never been crazy about “One Love” from “Illmatic” or “Lots Of Lovin” from “Mecca & The Soul Brother”, rappers just don’t make albums like this anymore. Funny thing is, my favorite cut on “The Beatnuts” is most likely your least favorite cut…..I’ve always been a sucker for “Rik’s Joint”, which featured the now infamous radio personality Miss Jones on the hook. So, if you don’t have much on your plate this week I’d suggest you give the Beatnuts self titled debut a listen….and give their EP “Intoxicated Demons” a spin to while your at it. Now this is good Hip Hop, the type of sh*t that you could throw in the headphones back on those hot summer days and never, ever have to fool with the fast-forward button. CLASSIC MATERIAL!!!
In 1993 the flavor didn’t stop with the release of Souls Of Mischief’s now classic “93 Till Infinity”. With tracks produced by Hiero’s seminal producer slash manager, Domino, Souls’ A-Plus & Casual, “Like It Should Be” was a versatile combination of the phat Hiero usual along with sick lyrics and “Oakland trunk-pump worthy” beats. The Hiero affiliated Extra Prolific was basically a solo act, the creation of MC Snupe along with studio cohorts Domino (not that Domino!) and A-Plus (of S.O.M.). “Like It Should Be” was released on Jive which boasted a solid, impressive roster in 94′. Despite the BOOMING first single “Brown Sugar”, Extra Pro was dropped from Jive shortly thereafter, and that is a damn shame….at least in my eyes!
Brace yourself, I actually favored “Like It Should Be” over anything Souls Of Mischief everdropped. It would also be safe to say that this is my favorite Hiero release..Period! Ok, you can breathe now and let me justify my stance. This album is just a feel good piece of work with an abundance of highlights and next to no wastage at all. Lets start with the opening lyrics to “Brown Sugar”, “I had bit**es, freaks and all that sh*t”… MC Snupe was just dope..I loved his flow and voice and he was one of those cats that seemed to coast over the lovely backdrops provided with an effortless swagger. And what about “One Motion”, if that cut ain’t funky I don’t know what is!
Man, I truly do love this effort from Extra Prolific and while they aren’t really a “One Album Wonder” (In 96′ Snupe returned with a record “2 for 15″ recorded from his own label, Security…if you got it, hook it up!) I just had to share this one with those cats who’ve never peeped this release. And of course for all you Hiero headz there’s guest spots everywhere. For instance, Casual positively steals the brief “Cash Money” and Opio may have gotten a head up on “Now What”. Regardless, even if second tier Hieroglyphics, “Like It Should Be” was one of the illest releases that ’94 had to offer and IMO has a plethora of exceptional tracks with bass knocks that can be heard for blocks. You can hit me up on this one, to deprive yourself of Extra Pro’s unique flavor would be criminal!