To say that the Beatnuts came off as ignorant, obnoxious assholes on their first two releases-”Intoxicated Demons” and “The Beatnuts”-would be quite an understatement. Corona, Queens’ kings of sexist, gun-toting, beer-guzzling rhymes were out to insult from the opening scratches of their initial ode to “gun-clappin” “Reign Of The Tec”. By the same token, to say that their music wasn’t the freshest shit on earth would also be a bold-faced lie. Despite their limited scope, the inspired production of Psycho Les and Juju coupled with the lyrical excursions of “cool-ass Fash’” were, as Positive K may have put it…a “good combination”. Of course, good things don’t last forever, and the group parted ways when Fashion found Islam, changed his name to Al Tariq and went for dolo. While one might have imagined that his adopted faith would preclude the agenda of over-the-top braggadocio and descriptions of sexual escapades we grew to expect from Fash’, “God Connections” more or less picked up the rowdiness from where the World Famous trio’ self-titled full length left off.
“Think Not’s” melancholy guitar strums and freaky tales from on tour, responded to the happy globetrotting of “Props Over Here” with a realistic refrain, while the album’s first single “Do Ya’ Thang” had Al very capably doing just what the titled conveyed from every believable sex position. But despite Al’s crew catching wreck on the freestyled “Spectacular”, the luster from a track like “Just A Lil’ Joint”-which had the reunited Beatnuts flowing like Boone’s Farm over underwater wah-wahs-couldn’t help but outshine the majority of the LP’s remaining solo material. Crate-dug interludes and even production contributions from Al’s compatriots constituted a sincere effort at emulating the Nuts’ magic of the past. But lyrically and musically filler tracks like “Sexy La” (even though the production on the joint is SLAMMIN’), “No Question” (another dope beat) and “Get Down Baby” didn’t really have enough impact to either get you open or offend you, one pitfall the trio of Corona kids always managed to avoid. Islamic axioms notwithstanding, with “God Connedctions” the most memorable lesson was that three was still the magic number.
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.
In the mid-nineties, cats were looking for any emcee to truly represent when it came to straight up hardcore Hip Hop, right? Let the album’s title tell it-Chino XL was definitely “Here To Save You All”. Sit down with this, grab a dictionary and ready yourself for a lyrical barrage of metaphors, the likes of which you’ve never heard of before. “Here To Save You All” was 16 cuts deep, a blend of rugged rhythms that featured dope punchlines and hooks. Chino’s rhymes ran through a warped rhythm, making for a non-stop head nod.
You’ve all heard the infamous first single from the album by now, “No Complex” so you knew that nobody was safe from gettin’ shitted on: “Getting the people hyped like Monday Night at the Improv/Dive in Ricki’s Lake plus I Rush like Limbaugh/…Fear and superstition could get iller than circumcision/And things could get more uglier than Coolio with his hair frizin’/My mind’s a warfield like Marsha or Justin/Psychosis be exploding like spontaneous combustion.” Now, if you were one of the fortunate who didn’t have to rearrange your face after being skewered by Chino’s razor-sharp lyrics, please proceed to “It’s All Bad” where the fellow with the braids, poignantly examined the distinction between fame and success from a tragic, misguided viewpoint. And although Chino was definitely a soloist a few friends reached out with a helping hand on “Here….”. On “Riiiot” he teamed up with one of the West’s best lyricist, Ras Kass, for an all-out assault on the wack emcee.
On the later portion of the disc, you had the crazy ill Kool Keith who provided the answer to “The Shabba Doo Conspiracy” over a rubber-band beat, upstaged like a mofo by Chino’s fierce verbal heat. Each rhyme on “Here To Save You All” was packed full of visuals and Chino had plenty of stuff to say-that’s what I enjoyed most about the album. Think about something you’d just love to say aloud publicly, but would rather burn in a chamber filled with rat piss before admitting it. There’s nothing that Chino XL held back in order to get the message across, but at the end of the day the shocking similes alone couldn’t get this album over the hump.
Dark Sun Riders Featuring Brother J? Could this have been the same liberating, grand-verbalizing Brohter J from the educating X-Clan? Without a doubt. Yet, Dark Sun Riders was an alias that sounded more like a flurry of Middle Eastern camel jockeys ready for combat than a second effort from a member of one of Hip Hop’s most political and controversial rap groups.
All pretenses aside, “Seeds Of Evolution” (released in 96′ on Island Records) was actually a very fulfilling yet confusing album. It was actually refreshing to hear verbal shogun Brother J, after a two and a half year hiatus from the release of X-Clan’s “X-Odus”, unveil his smooth vocal tone over tracks that took you back to “..The East Blackwards” days. Upon first listen, Brother J came full circle from the alchemical mixture of Pan-African sensibilities, nationalist politics and funkadelic traditions displayed on the two prior X-Clan offerings. On “Seeds..”, Brother J espoused non-racially-biased universal philosophies dealing with topics that spawned the movement from chaos to universal order. Not focusing on the conflict between Black and White men in general, but present man and original man, values that dominated the majority of the album. The better half of the album is completely solid with lyrics and production like that of the eponymous initial track. A thick substitution break accompanied by a humming bassline and a synthesized bell tone compliment the style of Brother J as he ran through the letters of his chaotic moniker. The last half of the album tends to drag a bit and hardly ever lets up with it’s relentlessly tiring subject matter. I got the picture, Brother J! Dark Sun Riders featuring Brother J was an acute change (read: new image) from the post-X-Clan, pro-original-man subject matter which, honestly, suited the image that most lyricists were portraying in ‘92. However between ‘92-’95, all images of any lyricist seemed somewhat suitable.
Nevertheless, prompting a second coming of Hip Hop consciousness is what Dark Sun Riders aimed for….however, a susceptible and pretentious trend bandwagon is more what it sounded like to my ears, “sisssieeeeeeeeessss!”.
The most accurate indication of Hip Hop’s continuation of a global art form may be seen in the adulation of our Japanese brethren, express for many of the music’s more “underground/less commercially inclined artists. In 1995 DJ Krush’s “Meiso” introduced a true (Far)Eastern collaboration featuring vocals from a handful of East Coast emcees with Krush’s moody “trip-hoppy” beats. A year later, DJ Honda took the concept a step further with his self-titled debut on Relativity. Honda’s self-titled debut featured a mix bag of an LP, dominated by some of New York’s most respected wordsmiths.
Though not everything on the album measured up as some of the contributing artists best output, there are several solid moments. The introductory “DJ Battle” serves as a teaser that a nice serving of dopeness will ensue; Honda’s production tended to favor more melodic loops that competently followed New York beat blueprints, topped off with “scratched in” choruses a la DJ Premier. Not coincidentally, “What You Expected” found Guru and Premier on a blaxplotation infected track, complete with Primo’s signature cuts replacing Honda’s on the break. Redman showed up for “Dat’s My Word” spitting entertaining and playful references to “Yamahas”, “The Great Wall Of China”, “Godzilla”, and “fried shrimp rice” over a bumping keyboard resonance. Meanwhile, “Straight Talk From New York” had Grand Puba upstaging Sadat X with his usual charming dash of ignorance: “It’s time to run right through you like White Castles do you/ Be true to the game or I’ll pretend I never knew you/Brothers here can’t get a red penny/Mess around and catch a bad one like that devil Denny (Reginald….L.A. riots?)”.
If there is a consistent flaw to be found in both the stronger and weaker material on Honda’s debut, it’s that the DJ /producer doesn’t make his presence felt enough throughout. Traditional combo units (Gang Starr, Pete & CL) prove that the man behind the boards is just as important as the man behind the mic, via the distinctive personality that each brings to his music. While you can’t blame Honda for not transforming into Dr. Dre overnight, Honda did stake his claim as a notable contributor for global Hip Hop.
“I know, I know….back when this site came to fruition a mere year ago (time flies, huh?) I’d written off Keith’s follow up to his phenomenal debut “The Most Beautifulest Thing In This World” as a “sophomore slump”, boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong (you can’t pick em’ all right). Over the last several months my outlook on “Enigma” has changed drastically, almost forcing me to believe that “Enigma” may actually be a more well-rounded album than his 1994 debut. Released on Jive Records in 1996 the Hip Hop world was introduced to “Enigma” via the first single “The Rhyme” (remember the Jive sampler was packaged in an issue of the source with this single along with a few E-40 cuts on it?), which to I really never cared for (”we keep it jiggy, jiggy, jiggy, jiggay….we keep it wiggy, wiggy, wiggy, wiggay!). While the Ummah helmed remix of “The Rhyme” was a vast improvement to the track, I felt that “The Rhyme” was a poor attempt to capitalize on the same vibe as “The Most Beautifulest..”.
Keith Murray’s mentor and pal Erick Sermon of EPMD handled the majority of the production on the album as he did with Keith’s debut, the overall feel of the E Double’s production is very comparative to that of The Ummah & J. Dilla in particular (The Ummah did produce “Dangerous Ground” as well as the aforementioned “The Rhyme” remix). Many of the beats on the album could have doubled as instrumental backdrops for A.T.C.Q’s “Beats, Rhymes & Life” released the same year as “Enigma”. Like I said before, I truly pegged this album wrong…other than “The Most Beautifulest..” no other track on Keith’s rookie effort captured the same feel and essence as tracks like “What A Feelin” (gotta’ love that Total vocal sample, those chicks couldn’t hold a note for shit!!) , “Yeah” (f. Jamal, Redman, Busta & E Double) & the album’s opener “Call My Name” did for me on this impressive second “go round” for this intricate lyricist. I don’t know where my head was at ya’ll this album is niiiiice! While listening to Keith’s unlimited vocabulary (dude, sounds as if he just wrote the lyrics with a thesaurus in his back pocket) is by comparison like listening to Aesop’s Rock “None Shall Pass”, Keith’s always animated and enjoyable nonetheless.
Damn, give me “Enigma” all day, everyday……now, we’re subjected to this bullsh*t ass “Rap Murr Phobia”. To hear Keith at his peek, “Enigma” may have very well been Mr. Murray’s last call to greatness”.
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″.
We received our first glimpse of Heather B on Boogie Down Productions’ “Edutainment” on the bonus track “7 Deejays”. Since that verse, Heather B has tried her hand at a little bit of everything. Whether it was opening up her own beauty shop in her native New Jersey or showcasing her “acting” talent on MTV’s “The Real World”, the last thing that you’d expect from her would have been a single the caliber of “All Glocks Down” and a consistent album in the vein of “Takin’ Mine”. An irresistible head-nodder that never received much significant airplay on mix shows, yet become sort of an underground classic, “…Glocks Down” showcased Heather B’s moving delivery and graceful yet rough lyrics over a bangin’ Kenny Parker track. “If Headz Only Knew” had some heartfelt entreaties about lasting in the microcosm of Hip Hop, urging spread eagle women to shut their legs tight. The lyrics were extremely on point as Heather exclaimed: “It’s more to it than a Lex and a duplex/Don’t sell sex, although sex sells/I got more respect.” She even flowed on to state, “See now/It’s time that I get more agile/Style versatile/Fuck doin’ a minute in the penile/Attitude hostile/Intelligently hostile/Not just the rhymes but my frame of mind will drop you.”
The highlight of Heather’s debut “Takin’ Mine” had to be “My Kinda’ Nigga” which featured the incomparable lyrics of Brownsville bad boys, M.O.P. The widespread theme of entrepreneurship resonates throughout much of the lyrics on the album, there’s also the incorporation of your traditional “beat-down” lines that Heather has become known for. She may have had the ability to take out most male lyricists during her heyday, which is a true testament to her lyrical acrobatics. The Beatminerz’ Mr. Walt lends a helping hand on the incredible track “Real Niggas Up”, which featured Tone 2000 and Thorough Bo over a domino-effect bassline that complimented Heather’s lyrics perfectly. While the emergence of female lyricists in general has also been a bit cloudy of the years, talented emcees such as Heather were more often than not put on the back shelf. Yet it was evident with “Takin’ Mine” that Heather B grew from her earlier days of touring and learning alongside the historical BDP, needless to say, Kris Parker must have taught her well.
Poor Nas..admit it, you had to be disappointed when you first listened to “It Was Written”. Why? think about it, will there ever be another “Illmatic“….I sure hope so, but I doubt it. I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that the Nas hating actually began shortly after the release of “It Was Written” including a fair dose from yours truly. The Trackmasters were hot, coming off their intoxicating production on LL’s reincarnation “Mr. Smith”, so Nas scooped up Poke & Tone with hopes of equalling or possibly surpassing the success he attained with “Illmatic“. Let’s be real here, if you were anything like me you hated the commercialization of “If I Ruled The World” featuring Mrs. Marley errrr…Lauryn Hill (who was also “hot” at the moment). Worse yet, the R. Kelly assisted “Street Dreams” was just another thorn in my side as I tried to cope with losing the raw, visual, metaphoric Nas that captivated my eardrums on “Illmatic“. OOOH, and has Dr. Dre ever let you down more with his lame production on “Nas Is Coming”? (damn, how generic was the hook on that joint?) and keep in mind this was following Dre’s debacle “Presents The Aftermath”. Arrrrgghhhhh! I thought after the first few listens to “It Was Written”. How could Nas do this to me?
So where do I stand with “It Was Written” today? Why is this record in my “Top 100″? I’ll tell you plain and simple, take away the three aforementioned tracks (admittedly, “If I Ruled The World” has grown on me a bit over the years) and it’s a CLASSIC in my eyes. I figure, “Okay Nas, I get it! You accomplished your initial intent, C’mon kid, you sold 3 million copies worldwide! Although, “Illmatic” deserved to far exceed those numbers….face it, it ain’t happening (BTW, what has “Illmatic” done in numbers thus far?). As mad I was at the Trackmasters for turnin‘ Nas‘ beats out, I couldn’t resist the subtle chords and strings on “The Message”. Look at the vividness of “I Gave You Power”…Nas + Primo, need I say more? (although, Nas may have listened to O.K.’s “Stray Bullet” a time or two before it was time for the final cut of “It Was Written”). “The Set Up” along with “Live Ni**a Rap” finds Havoc lacing Nas with typical Mobb Deep-like, haunting production while “Suspect” is just a pure creeper…it actually makes me want to throw on my Carhartt hoodie, lace up my suede timbs slide into the Jeep and do a driveby. Too bad I’m sittin‘ here in my suit minus the jacket and my daughter is winding down for the evening, watchin‘ an episode of “Baby Einstein” or I swear…..ha, ha. My favorite cut still from “It Was Written” remains to be the posse cut “Affirmative Action” featuring the Firm minus Cormega. So as much as this album frustrated me in 1996, I’ve grown to appreciate it that much more as time has passed. Of course, when you are subjected to “Nastradamus” and Nas‘ most recent opus “Hip Hop Is Dead” (which should have appropriately titled “Nas Is Dead”…you owe us for that sh*t Nas, C’mon Man!) you sure do come to appreciate things a hell of alot more. You don’t know what you got till’ it’s gone! Hopefully, the forthcoming “N+#ga’ is Nas’ return back to his glory days and his single “Remember The Times” is a step in the right direction.
In the overcrowded Hip Hop industry where mediocrity has become the standard rather than the exception, the ability to distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd has become quite essential over the years. “Decent” has never cut the mustard over the time-line of the last 15 years or so. In 1996 Xzibit propelled himself to the forefront of Hip Hop’s “Next Generation” as a member of the dysfunctional Alkaholik family. Unlike the animated Alkaholiks, X to the Z’s debut “At The Speed Of Life”was, at times, weighed down by a no-frills, straightforward rhyming approach that became stagnant at certain moments.
Although X’s flow was fundamentally sound, his overbearing voice slightly contributed to the album’s monotony. True, not everyone can pull off the gruff sound of Busta Rhymes or O.D.B., but Xzibit’s presence did make for a few unmemorable tracks on “At The Speed….”. Even the interludes were boring, which exemplified the album’s conceptual void. However, the album’s highlights come with the aid of guest spots. The Likwit fam lent a rhyme on “Bird’s Eye View” as J-Ro and Tash displayed a style and presence that made the earlier Liks albums soo damn funky. The clever “Plastic Surgery” which ironically dealt with commonality in Hip Hop, featured fellow Golden State members Ras Kass & Saafir as cosmetic surgeons who lyrically operate on Hip Hop’s surface. The true savior of the album was the extraordinary beats of producer E-Swift. Throughout the album, Swift’s impressive, bottom-heavy, tightly programmed production salvaged the remains of Xzibit’s debut effort. As it stands, you’re only as good as what you’ve brought to the table, and although X was never a bad emcee, “At The Speed Of Life” contained nothing that really separated him from the pack from 94′-97′. The album’s lack of cohesion made it, at best, an ordeal of fast forwarding, searching for a handful of notable tracks.
Kwest’s first and only “official” release “This Is My First Album” resonated with testosterone-fueled humor and equally bouncy beats that served as a fun-filled and cohesive listen. Splattered throughout with plenty of bodily fluids, Kwest’s “This Is….” came correct (pun intended) and was best summed up by the Pete Rock vocal sample “Got a setup so smooth, they should call me lubrication” on the song titled….what else but….”Lubrication”. The album’s first single “101 Things To Do While I’m With Your Girl” was a perfect representation of Kwest’s clever, sex-filled steelo, and the topics of lust occupied over half of the album. Making you double over in stitches from laughing so hard while forcing you to nod your head uncontrollably at the same time was Kwest forte, and he did it with the least amount of effort.
Always proving that he “doesn’t give a F*ck, Kwest busted out tales of illicit escapades with an underage skimy that ended with him on lock down with the hilarious and politically incorrect “Butt A Few-Co”. But don’t be fooled, Kwest was all about styles upon styles, and he truly ripped iddish’ on the “Blase Blah” which was soo fat it had you shaking your head in amazement (at least, I know I did) as Kwest went line for line straight off the dome piece. Plus, Kwest got freaky or ill for the hell of it (see “Disk Or Dat” and “Damn”), as well telling visually stimulating stories that contain a fair amount of substance (see “Herman’s Head” or “Bludawnmeyesneekuhz” which was about killin’ over sneakers). In my opinion, “This Is My First….” highlight came in the form of “I Met My Baby At The VIM” which had the potential to do for the New York sports outlet as what Biz did for Albee Square Mall. On “VIM..” Kwest pulled off a sentimentally-sappy tune so corny that it was fly. The song kept you guessing as to whether to take Kwest seriously or not, which was a surefire sign of a talented emcee no doubt. Not bad for a “First Album” I’d say!