Woooooo!!!! Let me just begin this post by stating that this may be the dopest album that I’ve never heard….well, at least up until this week, that is. Of course, I wasn’t foolish enough to sleep on the Artifacts debut “Between A Rock And A Hard Place”, especially after hearing the singles “Wrong Side Of The Tracks” (a true graf-writer’s anthem) and “C’mon Wit Da Git Down”. Since it’s release in ’94, the Artifacts outstanding debut has stayed in constant rotation, very seldom do I go over a month without at least listening to a few tracks from the album, with “Lower The Boom” being hands-down favorite. However, I, much like many of the heads in the Hip Hop community in 1997 devoted entirely too much time and attention to Diddy and his Bad Boy fam rather than picking up the Artifacts sophomore follow-up “That’s Them”.
Simply put, this album is without a doubt a very solid 8 outta’ 10 with very little, if any, filler. With the enlistment of a plethora of bonafied hit makers on the production tip, Tame and El relentlessly unleashed verbal darts to the masses that were the furthest thing from being tagged as “jiggy”. Revealing their innate ability to harness unmatched levels of energy on wax, the Artifacts may have even topped their performance on “Between A Rock..”. The first single from “That’s Them”, “The Ultimate” was a nice first taste of what to expect from this New Jeruz duo. Hell, I even picked up the cass-single for the Showbiz remix alone, yet for reasons unknown I never actually bought “That’s Them”. Although, that all changed this week when I placed the order for a used copy on Amazon.
More important than what the ‘Facts brought to their music was what they actually choose to leave out, which in turn made “That’s Them” such a refreshingly easy listen. Void of gaudy “bling” references or illegal narcotic distribution tales, instead there is just straight emcee bravado with a hit of inebriated B-boy wit. The Brand Nubian assisted “Collaboration Of Mics” and the Run-DMC sampled “This Is Da Way” found the Artifacts unleashing a lyrical onslaught aimed at fake ass, doo-doo rappers over bonkers production courtesy of Lord Finesse (“Collabortion…”) and the Mighty V.I.C. (“This Is Da Way”). But the true “oh shit!” moment on “That’s Them” is delivered via the spacey and progressive “Ingredients To Time Travel”, on this track Tame seems to be experimenting with a new and hypnotic time-delay style over an equally mystical beat that was produced by a little-known producer who went by the name of Gruff Rhino. To truly witness the depth of “Time Travel” you’ve gotta’ bump it in your headphones….car stereos or a boombox just doesn’t give the track it’s due. If I was to do a “Most Played For The Week” post, this track would have the #1 spot on lock, no question!
Even though “That’s Them” may not have been conceptually as tight as the duo’s debut, the album makes for a formidable follow-up that is not only refreshing, but it also served as a reminder of Hip-Hop’s more innocent, care-free times. Do yourself a solid and don’t miss out on this…..uh, hum….CLASSIC!
Okay, you may already know the story by now…if not, it goes a little something like this: Two young aspiring emcees (remember these cats in the Unsigned Hype column in the Source?) begin recording an album that many would soon hail as the revival of hardcore East Coast Rap….1/2 of the duo soon ends up doin‘ a bid (Capone) soon leaving the other half (Noreaga) to embark on finishing The War Report all by his lonesome with some help from a few Queensbridge buddies (Nas, Tragedy, Mobb Deep, etc, etc.). Released in June of 1997 (on Tommy Boy? Damn, I coulda‘ swore it was Penalty) with the jiggy era about to blast off, Capone & Noreaga dropped a Classic that will never be forgotten if your even somewhat off an East Coast Hip Hop fan.
My introduction to “C.N.N.” was the “T.O.N.Y.” single, which was coincidentally produced by a few off Puffy’s soon to be Hitmen (Nashiem Myrick & Carlos “6 July” Broady)….whoooooo, I’m tellin you “T.O.N.Y.” was that knock boyeee! Admittingly, I wasn’t too fond of the “NY, NY” (released by the Dogg Pound) response “LA, LA” (which also featured Mobb Deep & Tragedy)….I mean, Marley Marl laced these two young cats with a decent soundscape, but it still seemed like a halfhearted attempt of a comeback cut…it just need to be a little more vicious. Still, plenty to love about “The War Report”…to this day my favorite always has been and always will be “Live On Live Long”. With a dragged out, but simple, sing songy hook (C.N.N……C.N.N…) “Live On…” gives me the goosebumps. Funny thing is, it was produced by G-Money and I couldn’t begin to tell you who in the hell dude is. “Stick You” produced by Naughty Shorts (uuuuhh, here’s another one?) is just pure uncut dope and let’s not forget the remix to “Closer” that wasn’t even included on “The War Report” (BTW, someone please hook me up with a link for that). Oh, and lastly don’t overlook “Capone Bone” which finds Capone boasting about his sexual prowess with the honeydips.
What about the production? Are you kidding me, Lord Finesse, Buckwild, Puffy’s Hitmen, Marley Marl & EZ Elpee all contribute some beasts of beats to “The War Report”. Man, I think this album never properly has received it’s due…sad thing is, it may be due to the amount of garbage that both have been dropping lately (Melvyn Flynt anyone? And Capone’s “Menace 2 Society”?..sorry). Damn, why are rookie efforts always the best albums (in most cases) dropped during an artists tenure in Hip Hop? Never made much sense to me.
Nearly twenty (20!!!) years ago, Scarface’s fiery voice, along with the “care-free” rantings of original partners Bushwick Bill & Willie D, were one of the first to be heard from the South during a time-frame when the national spotlight on Hip Hop had just begun to intensify. The Geto Boys crafted music so provocative and so disturbing that it literally scared the sh*t outta’ white corporate America. All throughout the outlandish cries of censorship and the turmoil that surrounded the group, Scarface’s role in Hip Hop developed into that of a highly respected pillar within the music. The fact that he was still a teen when he joined the Geto Boys, and die-hard fans have watched ‘Face develop in the often one-dimensional genre known as gangsta rap, only has added more luster to his considerable multi-platinum accomplishments. By far the most successful solo act of the trio, Scarface dropped his fourth disc, “The Untouchable”, in 1997. A project that was no small feat to create. Along with the added responsibility of carrying his troop, Face Mob, ‘Face also aimed to confront the innovations of his past. In a bold move that paid off, the veteran rapper reinvented this trademark flow on the breakthrough single, “I Never Seen A Man Cry”, with stunning results. Not only that, he accomplished something even more demanding by replenishing the exhausted “reality rap” genre with meaningful lyricism that went far beyond your usual modern gunplay, adding his speculation on the afterlife and exploring an emotional rage that broke beyond the mere category of anger. So how did Scarface top himself when he just topped yourself on his prior record, “The Diary”?
The answer “The Untouchable” provided was more in tune with the philosophy of the present rap era: go for the sure thing. As consumers respond more and more positively to rehashed concepts from a not-too-distant past, the consensus was…and still is, “be predictable but dope”. That almost sums up “The Untouchable” to a certain extent. Far less risky than his previous efforts, this LP flourished because of it’s overall restraint. simplified doesn’t always mean inferior in Hip Hop. On the contrary, when it’s conducted effectively, basic beats and rhymes equal some of the dopest and hottest sh*t..hell…look at Mobb Deep! The title track on “The Untouchable” is proof in the pudding. An unforgiving bassline that “sub” merges ears while a synthesizer smoothly swirls underneath a sparse pummeling drum beat was what ‘Face needed to prove that indeed, “the killer instinct never left me”. Slightly more up-tempo the posse cut “Money Makes The World Go ‘Round” employed a feel-good track that nevertheless resonated with a strange sting of melancholy. The song shines mainly because it acknowledges the empty happiness that “clockin’ dollars” can bring, something few, if any, hip hop songs do these days. Most refreshing by far, however, was “Smartz” the unexpected funky as hell parable on racism. With “The Untouchable”, Scarface re-emerged as a don, whose power is still felt whenever he steps away from the music scene for a bit. Now, here he is, 20 years deep hitting us over the head with his newest LP, “Made”, still sounding just as fresh as he did on “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me”. Scarface, a TRUE legend in Hip Hop who’s been as real as they come!
When the album was released in 1997, not a single soul, fans and industry-experts alike, could have imagined a better “package” to run with than the one CRU had to offer: They had sort of a hit with “Just Another Case”, Flex was pumping that ish like crazy, Def Jam was on top of their game, Chris Lighty’s Violator was the management and the inexplicably simple logo of the group was something you would never forget! Obviously, nothing could go wrong. But then again, if Def Jam releases an album in August (that’s when “Da Dirty 30″ came out), they’re probably paving the way for all their heavy-hitters who are about to penetrate the “game” with their “fourth-quarter-madness” (see 2006) and you shouldn’t expect no mean promotional machinery, right? Right! So between the monthly Wu-Related-Releases, the Ja-Rules and DMXs barking back and forth and Jay having “sunshine” written all over his face, the CRU faded away to the no-man’s-land and by the beginning of the following year, the world forgot they had ever existed and so did I.
The title referred to the 30 deep track-listing combining unique production with more than simplistic wordplay. The MCs Yogi (who was although responsible for the production) and the strange-looking Chadeeo had an unimaginable chemistry reminiscent of ATCQ. Matter of fact, a lot of things about the group and their music reminded me of Tribe and still do. I often heard and later read how the album is way too long with its ten interludes and twenty songs, how the content was mostly reluctant and damp and how you were never able to listen to the whole thing from the beginning to end. Well I strongly object! This, guys, reflected the spirit of New York, a city desperately searching for a forsaken identity after the loss of its king Frank White. If you’ve ever been to the notorious Tunnel, you would understand the legitimacy of “Live At The Tunnel”! “Nuthin’ But”, “Straight From L.I.P.” and “Bubblin’” captured the hardcore essence of all the five borrows and could have easily been produced by The Beatminerz.
Still, you could find more light-hearted compositions like the aforementioned “Just Another Case” or the mischievous “Wreckgonize” and “The Ebonic Plague” that gave you a mental break and to this day, I truly enjoy some of the hilarious ideas these guys have put together for their interludes. I’m not sure if this was a classic like most of my other propositions! All I know is that these guys made one of the best and by far overlooked albums for a many moons to come…-Rasul
Again, I’ll probably raise a few eyebrows with this pick as in my “Top 100″ as well. “Jewelz” ahead of “Word..Life?”…I’m not even gonna’ front, I really didn’t start listening to “Word..Life” in depth (by that, I mean not fast-forward through 7 of 15 tracks) until 2004. It’s kinda like Trav @ “Wakeyourdaughterup” stating sometime last year about he “wanted nothing to do with the UMC’s “Fruits Of Nature” when it first dropped”..I can honestly empathize with the man! When “Time’s Up” first hit the airwaves on local college radio, my initial impression was “Man, what’s all the buzz about this song?”…ooohhhh, how foolish I was (late pass x 10)! I have definitely come to the realization what I missed out on in 1994, but on the flipside of the coin “Jewelz” became one of my favorites almost immediately.
I think Omar Credle’s first single released off of “Jewelz” was “Far From Yours” featuring Yvette Michelle (see my Funk Flex post) on the hook, and while “O” received more than a little “heat” for switching up his style a bit….I absolutely loved it! Or maybe it was just the R & B chick on the hook (I don’t know what it is about the R & B chick on the hook?..maybe it’s just an illness I have) which I’ve always been a big fan of, and it’s hard to front on Buckwild’s always legit production. If I ever release an album, I swear I’ma put an “R & B chick” on every hook of every song..that’s a promise!!
Back to the matter at hand, let’s give “Jewelz” the proper due it deserves! The album starts off with a banger right from the jump with the Primo laced “My World”, which has gotta’ be one of Primo’s best beats. Baaammm!, then O.C. along with a guest appearance from Price Po & Pharoahe Monch, (damn, I shoulda’ just typed Organized Konfusion…is it just me, or is Pharoahe Monch’s name a bitch to spell?) hits you once again with another Primo infused killer “War Games”. The only thing that I’m not really crazy about with “Jewelz” is the appearance of Bumpy Knuckles aka Freddie Foxx on “M.U.G.” & “Win The G”, sorry Freddie..I’ve just never been a big fan of yours. You can tell him that for me though..have you seen that dude boxing?? Now come to think of it, I have a hard time seeing how folks would state that “Word..Life” was a better album than “Jewelz”. Oh well, give a listen to “Jewelz” again and you be the judge.