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"WTR meets WYDU presents: "I Love The 90's" (1996) Pt. I

by Eric on March 25, 2008

Note: “Put It In Ya’ System” updated with new tracks

“The Latch-Key Child”-A+ (1996, Universal)

I’ve really wanted to do a drop on this album for the last two months or so.  I guess the “W.T.R. is for the children” series would have been the most opportune time, but oh well.  Somehow, A+ always seems to be left out of the conversation amongst the likes of Da Youngstas, Kriss Kross, Shyheim, Illegal, etc. I picked up the “Latch Key Child” on a day which also found me walking out of the record store with Outkast’s “ATLiens”, 112’s debut and Nine’s “Cloud 9″ (which has probably received the least listens amongst the four mentioned). “All I See” was the first single released from “Latch Key..”, and I wasn’t really feelin’ it all that much (although, it was a Source Sure Shot Single..go figure!), what really nudged me to purchase the tape was “A+Z” featuring AZ and “Out For The Gusto” featuring Prodigy.

I can remember hearing both the aforementioned cuts on an old Ron G mixtape and I could hardly believe that A+ was only 13 years old! Q-Tip also drops by for a visit on the decent “Me & My Microphone” which also featured production from the now legendary Buckwild. I mentioned earlier that Da Youngstas “The Aftermath” was my favorite “kiddie” album, I would definitely have to put “The Latch Key Child” in my top 3…sorry, I just never really got into Shyheim’s “AKA The Rugged Child”. Take it from me, don’t even waste your time checkin’ out A+’s second disc “Hempstead High” as it pales in comparison to this quality debut from the youngster.

“Kollage”-Bahamadia (1996, Chrysalis)

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.

“Blah, Blah, Blah-Blahzay Blahzay (1996, Mercury)

After hearing their opening single “Danger” (….when the East is in the house? Oh my God…) blast outta’ cars up and down the entire East Coast the year prior to the release of their debut, “Blah, Blah, Blah”, the duo of PF Cuttin and Outloud were poised to score a winner with their first full length. While it was quite evident that Blahzay Blahzay took a page from Jeru’s book with their debut single, the same could also be said for the majority of tracks on the album. The gritty texture of PF Cuttin’s  beats and the relentless lyrical assault by Outloud, not to mention their shared locale of East New York, the Blah’s definitely had something to offer to the Hip Hop world. If anything, Blahzay along with the likes of MOP, Smoothe Da Hustler, OC, Jeru and Primo all helped to further solidify and carve out their piece of the gritty Bucktown sound.

Some of the bright moments on the album were the original “Danger” and the remix, “Danger Pt. II” which also featured the aforementioned Smoothe and his brother/his ace, Trigga The Gambler. Plus, the album’s second second, “Pain I Feel” was nothing to sneeze at either. The focus of “Blah, Blah, Blah” seemed to have built upon the structure of the album’s first two (and only, if my guess is correct) single releases. “Pain…” was a top-notch track that was almost a fitting third entry in the trilogy that began with Jeru’s “Come Clean” and OC’s “Time’s Up”.  Much like the two aforementioned CLASSICS, “Pain..” also was aimed to expose wack emcees, while at the same time relaying the message to “refine your lyrics”. Also of note, “Don’t Let This Rap Shit Fool You” and “Posse Jumpa” were verbal jabs aimed at Hip-Hop’s posers and pretenders, and it also served as a reminder to those crews in the industry who didn’t know their history. “Long Winded” incorporated the time-proven tactic of looping one’s own words while “Jackpot” and the title cut served as the declaration of PF Cuttin and Outloud’s signature, unique sound.

“Blah, Blah, Blah” was quite a refreshing, no bullsh*t type product that delivered exactly what it promised: beats and lyrics void of catchy, sing-songy hooks, posse cuts or tracks crafted for the “shock value”. I still play this in the ride every so often and it still knocks like in did when the album was released in 96′. If you don’t have this one already be sure to cop it!!

“Realms N’ Reality”-Cella Dwellas (1996, Loud)

With imaginative names like Phantasm and Ug, you would have thought that the Brooklyn duo’s main musical attribute would be originality, right? However, like a shooting guard with no jumper, that was one skill that the Cellas Dwellas didn’t always seem to possess. The Six Foot Ten (!) tall man, Phantasm, sounded like a mixture of Tek, Special Ed and….maybe, just a hint of Masta Ace. On the other hand, partner Ug came straight outta’ Busta Rhymes University armed with a gravely voice and off the wall rhyme tendencies.

Never really coming off as completely wack, the Dwellas instead remained like the same dude who’s been driving a Fed Ex truck for 30 years, who is comfortable….. yet would never want to step up into management. In the meantime, he still gets the job done if not with sparkling results….get it? With beats provided by Megahurtz, Nick Wiz and the Bluez Brothas, the fault lies not within the production but in the emcees themselves. Most songs on “Realms…” were given a jazzy feel that they (Ug & Phantasm) comfortably fit into but never really overwhelmed the listener. “Reality’s” best moments, like “Medina Style”, the trademark mid-nineties “hustlin’ to rappin” autobiography, and the twinkling, piano laced “Wussdaplan”, both were mainstays on East Coast mixtapes.

Oddly enough, my favorite cut from the album also happened to be the softest track. “Perfect Match” may have turned many a hard-rocks’ nose up, but honestly, I loved the sultry R & B hook coupled with the hardcore vocals from Ug & Phantasm. While the album may have been bland at times, the musical production was way too dope for “Realms” to go completely unnoticed.

“Illadelphalflife”-The Roots (1996, MCA)

The Roots will forever be (associated) with their predicament of outcasts who’ll hardly receive the recognition they deserve! From their first baby-steps to independently release “Organix” in ‘93 (I actually got a hold of it years later) to their gypsy-like locomotion across low class venues all across Europe (trust me, I’ve seen those guys play in the shittiest locations) and passing on a jewel with their EP “From the Ground Up” on the world-renown British record label Talkin’ Loud that was mostly praised for its extravagant and alternative urban music, off to their return to the States and signing a big contract with Geffen, The Roots always felt overly misplaced in our defunct world of Hip Hop. Their first introduction to the masses “Do You Want More?!!!??!” went unnoticed although a song like “Silent Treatment” was meant for eternity. They basically captured the mastery they had perfected on the stage and therefore, that album felt very much live (and that was the reason they didn’t get the props they deserved)!

“Illadelph” felt different: If you didn’t know the history of the “band”, you couldn’t tell of a mastermind named Questlove playing live-drums or a guy named Kamal orchestrating keys of life. This time around, they had created an auditory sensation, very generic if you will, that sounded very much Hip Hop in terms of 1996. Black Thought unleashed a beast on tracks like “Respond / React”, “Universe at War” (along with my man Common) and No Great Pretender (Fuck your back talk, I watch niggaz cat-walk / Over my pit of venom and send’em to the asphalt). Plus, they introduced a hungry Dice Raw on the first single “Clones” (to this day my standard on how drums are supposed to sound like, although Questlove didn’t play them: They were programmed with the SP 1200!). I’m pretty sure every one has the hilarious images of their video to “What They Do” buried in their memories and more than anything, this was the reflection of their mind-state and their code of conduct.

I somehow “lost” The Roots after “Things Fall Apart” and never found a connection back to their later releases, but “Illadelph Halflife” remains untouched as a milestone….-Rasul

“Nocturnal”-Heltah Skeltah (1996, Duck Down/Priority)

“Yesh, Yesh, Ya’ll…OGC, Heltah Skeltah be the best ya’ll, yes yes YAWWWL“…man, you had to love Fab 5’s debut single “Leflah Leflour Eshkoshka” (damn, and I bitch about spellin‘ Pharoahe!). With an old school flair and a pass the mic stylee, soon both duo’s would succeed in hitting us with super dope debuts (O.G.C.’s “Da Storm”..stay tuned for more on that and “Nocturnal”). Who knew that 1/5 of the emcees featured on “Leflah” would go on to be one of my favorite rappers today…Sean PEEEEEEE! Now help me out here, I coulda‘ swore that the B-Side to “Leflah..” was “Blah, Blah, Blah” which wasn’t even included on “Nocturnal”. I wish I wouldn’t have thrown out all my tapes, because is stating that “Letha Brainz Blo” was the B Side (if this is the case, someone has gotta’ hook me up with “Blah…”.

Anyway, with most of the production handled by the now-legendary Beatminerz (gotta’ love em’), there were also a few contributions beat-wise that I originally didn’t know. Sadat X & Buckshot actuallyco-produced “Here We Come” which was served as the “Intro” , and Shawn J. Period laced “Place To Be” (is this the same Shawn J. Period of the Down South fame?).  Now, what I found to be most surprising is that E-Swift of Tha Alkaholiks produced “Operation Lockdown“. Of course, Ruck & Rock kept ball rollin‘ with their exceptional chemistry and comedic metaphors abound on “Nocturnal”…but, what I loved most about the duo is that they were, and still are, completely original.

Even today, Sean P may rap about things that are commonplace in Hip Hop, but he does it in such a way that keeps you attentive, reeled in and eager for the next verse ( I still love P’s freestyle over Alicia Keys “You Don’t Know My Name” more than anything he’s ever dropped!). My favorites on “Nocturnal” were “Undastand” with it’s booming bassline and the “Dr. Kill Patient” featured “Therapy” (remember the video for that joint?) which were both produced by Baby Paul of the Beatminerz. Enjoy this one like it’s the last good Heltah Skeltah joint you’ll ever hear…..well, basically it was….because “Magnum Force” was…..damn, what went wrong with that one? Still, good to see the duo still alive and kicking!

“Da Storm”-O.G.C. (1996, Priority)

As the least high-profile members of BK’s Boot Camp Click, OGC’s inaugural LP, “Da Storm” may have been the equivalent to Tito Jackson’s solo album. Though not as charismatic as Buckshot, as venomous as Smif-N-Wessun, or as combustible as Heltah Skeltah….Starang, Louieville Sluggah and Top Dog nonetheless delivered their own brand of Crooklyn chemistry that exceeded the expectations of typical “been there, done that” East Coast worshipping rap fans (ahh hem!). Make no mistakes, it’s not that the OGC’s went very far against the grain. But, why should they have?

While nothing here quite matched the heights of Fab Five’s “Leflah, Leflaur, Eshkoshka” in terms of catchiness, the Boot Camp formula (somewhat abandoned on Heltah Skeltah’s “Nocturnal”) made a fine return to form on tracks like the potent first single “No Fear”, the hilarious homage to exploitative record execs, “Gunn Clap” and the bell-ringing title track. Guest even got in on the action with “Wild Cowboys In Bucktown”, which featured Sadat X and Sean Black. Meanwhile, the posse-protege throwdown “Elite Fleet” made room for the younger guns, namely the Representativz. Naturally, all the East Coast conservatism was bound to run aground at some point, and with the lyrical depth generally only going so far as “motherf&*kers better act like they know”, things got a little too generic by the time “Flippin” rolled around.

Yet despite these minor diversions of unfulfilled hot air, “Da Storm” calmy did damage in a consistently satisfying fashion that no one could have realistically forecasted. OGC’s debut may not have blown away any of Hip Hop’s foundations or conventions, but it sure as hell made your head nod vigorously and I wasn’t mad at all!

“Soul On Ice”-Ras Kass (1996, Priority)

What do you cats out there know about the big Homie’s first independent release “Won’t Catch Me Runnin’/ Remain Anonymous”? I first was introduced to the L.A. underground movement (following Freestyle Fellowship’s “Innercity Griots”, which is a definite classic- trust me!!!) through E-Rule and his marvelous “Listen Up” / “My Synopsis” single (by the way, if anyone’s got his album let me know- please!!!). I had read about the “Good Life Café”, the “Unity Committee” and “Rebels Of Rhythm” and how those certain artists had built up a functioning networking-system, collaborating on the regular basis. These were the fundamentals of all the east-coast sounding west-coast cats that were bound to surprise us in the mid-90s. I remember reading an article about this cat, sitting in a dark room at his mother’s crib in Carson, California, reading books- including dictionaries and writing lyrics. I specifically remember this since our hero Ras claimed to look for words that were rarely used in the Hip Hop context!

Now back to the program: I sincerely think that Ras Kass is one of the top ten “lyricists” of all time (I might be exaggerating a little but hey, dude is really nice). But then, I also feel an army of a migraine bumrushing my dome after I have listened to three songs of the man back to back (that’s three songs at the most!); there’s something about his voice and delivery combined with his overly “big words” that make him a bit annoying to tolerate. “Soul On Ice”, based on the lyrics, is a very good album (there are too many great lyrical moments on this album- check the classics “Etc” and “Nature Of The Threat”). I have often read how better production would have gained the album more notable success and truth be told, I may have to agree. There are some nice beats (”Marinatin’” and “Miami Vice”) offered, it’s just that the majority of the beats are irrelevant by serving the purpose of ” just accompanying” the great lyrics… Great lyrics, bad instrumentals? Who cares! The man could have become one of the better idols of this community and he messed things up- just read my King Sun post and you get the picture-…Rasul

“The New World Order”-Poor Righteous Teachers (1996, Profile)

Hell, I’d categorize Poor Righteous Teachers’ catalog as a whole as being “slept on”. Released on Profile Records in 1996, “The New World Order” would sadly be the last collective effort that we’d hear from members Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom & Father Shaheed. Although, Wise Intelligent would release a solo debut that same year (”Killin’ U…For Fun”) and “The Talented Timothy Taylor” this year (Wise, you need to get some better production…PLEASE!), neither of those albums would succeed in capturing the same essence as his four albums as a member of P.R.T. Heavy on Five Percent knowledge and clever lyrical prowess from Wise, “The New World Order” was an album that many overlooked despite a surprising appearance from The Fugees (who where killin’ it in 96′) on the Culture Freedom produced banger “Allies” (which could have also been titled “Cowboys Pt.II”).

Also, labelmates connected on “Gods, Earth & 85ers” which featured another emcee with somewhat of a “cult following” in the underground, Nine. Fortunately, the odd pairing of lyrical styles between Wise and Nine wins, as Nine’s gruff voice fuels the hook while the Raekwon & Grand Puba vocal slices proved to be the missing piece in the puzzle on the Father Shaheed produced firestarter. On “They Turned Gangsta” the Sluggy Ranks delivered hook “Gunz and kniiives take people’s liiiives” flows perfectly with the conscious style of Wise & guest emcee Brother J (damn, J had one of the dopest voices and flows in Hip Hop). However, there is some fast forward material on “The New World Order” thanks to “Sistuh” (the syrupy hook just doesn’t do it for me on this one) and “My Three Wives” (Shakyla Pt. III) which is a steep fall off in quality from the two prior “Shakyla’s” released on “Holy Intellect” and “Pure Poverty”. My highlight of the album comes in the form of “Word Iz Life” which features a feel good sample (L.T.D.’s “Don’t Stop Loving Me Now”) and displays the most commercial appeal….or as close to “commercial” as P.R.T. could ever become. I’ve actually thought of doing a P.R.T. discography post but I just have had the time to do it as of late, as I feel that this is one group that truly never received their due props.

So where does “The New World Order” rank in terms of quality from one of Hip Hop’s legendary trios? I’d have to say I’d place this album third behind the likes of “Holy Intellect” and “Black Business” (which may actually be my favorite), but it’s much better than “Pure Poverty”. So, for some 5% knowledge along with solid beats from Culture Freedom & Father Shaheed be sure to peep the last album from New Jersey’s finest.”

“Legal Drug Money”-Lost Boyz (1996, Uptown/MCA)

Jesus, tell me the Lost Boyz and Uptown Records didn’t know how to pick a banger. First off, they hit us with the scoop on “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous” and I may be talking out the side of my mouth here but, wasn’t “Jeeps, Lex Coupes, Bimaz & The Benz” the B-Side of “Lifestyles….”? Talk about hittin‘ you with a double dose of bangers! Then, you had the follow-up single “Renee” which found Mr. Cheeks recollecting tales of a love lost (can someone please hook me up with the remix to that joint?) over ill production from Mr. Sexx. And of course you had the Pete Rock produced banger, which was also featured on the “America Is Dying Slowly” soundtrack…”The Yearn”.

Lately, this album has been getting a lot of play from me and it’s made me realize just how cohesive and well executed “Legal Drug Money” really was. After hearing much of the Easy Mo Bee production featured on “Lifestyles..”, “Jeeps…” and the party jumper “Is This Da Part” you’ll be left asking yourself “Why in the hell is Easy Mo Bee still not dropping heat today? A few months ago, I featured “Da Game” as part of my Sample Appreciation post for it’s excellent usage of Barry White’s “babymaker” “Playing Your Game, Baby”, before that I always skipped that track. Now, I see and hear it in a much different light as the buttery slick production featured on “Da Game” has made it my favorite cut on “Legal Drug Money”. Now, we all know that Mr. Cheeks has declined (to be generous) lyrically over the last five years or so and he was never in my Top 50….but, Mr. Cheeks…well, he’s efficient(ahh, that’s the word I’m looking for!) The only problem that I remember with “Legal Drug Money” is that it was released entirely a year too late. Even though it debuted at #1 on the Rap/R&B charts, Uptown should have capitalized on the success of their first single or two and for lack of better words “dropped it while it’s hot”. Still, a very dope album from The Lost Boyz errr…..Mr. Cheeks & Freaky Tah(R.I.P.)….Damn, tell me you wouldn’t want to have had Pretty Lou’s job back in the day. Imagine if they actually had to “cut the cake four ways”. Damn, that would suck being Mr. Cheeks!

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Spaiseone March 25, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Like a collection of my favorite albums ever!!!!

hotbox March 25, 2008 at 6:34 pm

:) Cheers to 1996, hip-hop’s final year.
:( Jeers to all the m4a’s.

CommishCH March 26, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Cella Dwellas had that “Advance to Boardwalk” track that I thought was a bit hokey, but was pretty creative too. Illadelph , OGC, and Nocturnal all certified bangers. “Clones” may be one of the illest beats ever.

jnypaver March 26, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Love the blog, love the 90s series, thanks for all the hard work on this isht. I hope this is the Renee remix that you are looking for…


Vincent the Soul Chef March 31, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Good look on the link… and the Blahzay Blahzay! I’ve been told about this one for years but I never heard it (strange as that sounds). Thanks for sharing…

Peace and blessings.

Christoban April 10, 2008 at 10:35 am

Thx man. I really enjoy your blogs…. It’s a mystery to me how there still can be so much hip hop i have never heard. I sometimes feel like I heard it all and then I read this blog and discover new (old) music. It’s just fantastic.

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