Hailing from the Bronx, Camp Lo successfully intertwined elements of Hip Hop while also incorporating elements of Jazz and Funk. After first appearing on the soundtrack for the Samuel L. Jackson thriller (insert sarcasm), “Great White Hype”, the duo of Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede scored a major ear-opener with the refreshing, unique sounds of “Coolie High”. The track was smooth and elegant yet street, much in part to the soulful production of Ski Beatz. In the early winter of ’97 the eclectic duo would release the highly underrated “Uptown Saturday Night” on Profile Records. Camp Lo effectively managed to avoid most jazz-rap cliches while also retaining their street cred and while the album didn’t necessarily break any barriers it was a nice venture away from the hoodie sporting, Timbo wearin’ Hip-Hop that ruled the airwaves from ’93-’96. With deft lyrics and a rhythmic touch both of the aforementioned emcees flowed effortlessly over the production laced by the man who gave Jay-Z’s debut album the “platinum touch”.
Ski’s production on “Uptown Saturday Night” is one of the album’s most desirable aspects. Ski is no doubt a skilled producer as he weaved funky sonic patterns that never seemed to sound too busy or overloaded. Ski’s production is very hard to categorize on this album, incorporating bits and pieces from Hip Hop, Jazz and even soul, the best words to describe his contributions are “rich” and “majestic”. As far as Sonny Cheeba and Geechi are concerned…you gotta’ give em’ style points, not only lyrically but with their unique, throwback garb as well. These cats definitely weren’t afraid to express themselves!
“Uptown Saturday Night” opens with “Krystal Karrington,” an upbeat track where Cheeba and Suede introduce themselves as lyricists with flair, thanks to their silky, smooth voices and deliveries. One of the best celebratory Hip Hop cuts soon follows, “Luchini, aka This Is It”. From the unforgetable chorus to the perfect horn-laden beat and joyfully. happy lyrics, this song is classic and nearly makes the album worth the purchase alone. “Park Joint” used a really catchy sample and I remember Pete Rock using this same sample in the past, I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. “B-Side to Hollywood” has jazzy horns as the duo steals the show on the mic and it doesn’t hurt that the track has a dope hook as well. “Killin’ `Em Softly” has a more down-tempo beat but some of album’s hardest verses can be found here. “Sparkle” just may very well be favorite track from the album, a jazzy and mystical “night-time” that is an absolute must have on your “chill” mixtapes or playlists. “Black Connection” has a moody and dramatic sample, once again the two rappers shine over even more great production, really bringing out the best in the music. “Swing” yet is another well-produced, catchy cut, and “Rockin’ It aka Spanish Harlem” sports an obvious Latin influence. “Say Word” and “Negro League” are two lyrical highlights. “Nicky Barnes aka It’s Alright” is loaded with style, and “Black Nostaljack aka Come On” is also one of my favorites on the disc. And, of course, “Coolie High” is gorgeous, slow, sultry and nostalgic all the same, b. The album closes with an interesting mix of “Sparkle,” it has no noticeable drumbeat and sounds like spoken whispered poetry.
“Uptown Saturday Night” is surely Camp Lo’s best piece of work to date as the duo’s most recent release “In Black Hollywood” was received with mixed results, while the duo’s second disc “Let’s Do It Again” was a huge disappointment, at least that is my perception. In short, “Uptown Saturday Night”, even with a few bumps in the road is definitely worthwhile if not nearly flawless.
Royal Flush, the Flushing, Queens native first landed himself a solo deal via his notable contributions to label-mate, Mic Geronimo’s debut “The Natural”. Unleashing the underground shiner, “Movin’ On Ya’ Weak Production” only raised anticipation levels for Flush’s debut “Ghetto Millionaire” released on TVT/Blunt in 1997. Following in the footsteps of the great emcees whom also hailed from his stomping grounds, Flush displayed an unyielding delivery and fierce syntactical rhetoric, as displayed on the plush “Iced Down Medallions”, which also featured Noreaga. The same case could have also been made for Flush’s NYC pledges of allegiance on “Rotten Apple”, “Worldwide” (those damn strings are eerie as hell!) and the breezy, Buckwild production “Everyday Dream”.
While the topic of domestic abuse has always been very high on the nation’s radar of consciousness, Flush’s stone-cold narrative “Hard Times” was a striking, emotional tale told through the eyes of the man who experienced those unfortunate events himself. Fed up with the physical abuse of his father on his family, Flush decided to “take matters into his own hands” as judged by the lyrics: “I went downstairs to grab the nine right from the sink/Came back upstairs and put the shit right up in his face/What up now Daddy?/I shot him in the face and smiled gladly”….some potent shit right there!
Despite the occasional attempt at day-time airplay, the Michael Jackson inspired “I Can’t Help It” and the umpteenth jerk of Roy Ayers on “Shine” being the two obvious instances, Flush’s debut is, overall, a sure thing. “Ghetto Millionaire” could have trimmed down a few tracks or so, but I truly believe that had this album dropped a few years prior to 1997 it would have been more than just a blip on underground Hip-Hop’s radar. The overall commercialism of Hip Hop in late-’97 really hurt “Ghetto Millionaire” from being recognized as one of the best releases from that same year.
The trio err….on this album, duo of The Beatnuts have always been know for combining jazz fused rhythms with hardcore, raunchy lyrics highlighted ALWAYS by dense, provocative production. While lacking some of the energy that 1994′s self-titled (or “Street Level”) possessed, “Stone Crazy” continued to push the envelope of creativity, especially with the group’s biggest hit to date, “Off The Books”. Even though the ‘Nuts have never blown anyone out da’ box, lyrically…..they have always been at the forefront of East Coast production, carving out some of the best beats on this side of DJ Premier.
The ‘Nuts third effort, “Stone Crazy” hasn’t strayed from my “heavy rotation” since I purchased the album in early..get this, 2000! Yep, I’ll admit, I slept on this album big-time. Although, I do recall picking up the CD single for “Off The Books”, but hey..that was a given, right? “Stone Crazy” is an overall dope album that symbolized an era that will never return (although 2007 was a pretty darn good year for the music) – the era of good, solid rap music. Even then, the very thin line between commercial and underground was incresingly prevalent, but the Beatnuts music reverted back to a time when “good music” was just “good music”, nothing more nothing less. The lyrics are hardcore, but comedic as expected. The production was more so psychedelic on this release than their previous EP release, “Intoxicated Demons” and “Street Level”, but the beats were still raw and as gritty as ever.
Also, on “Stone Crazy” the ‘Nuts chose to unleash some new talent, such as Big Pun, Cuban Linx (not so much on the “talent” part with him though) and Screwball. JuJuis as violent as ever and Psycho Les is as funny as ever. This album is an overall great listen from beginning to end and even though this disc will most likely be remembered for it’s inclusion of “Off The Books”, “Do You Believe?”…in my opinion, is one of the best tracks from the Beatnuts notorious discography. Even short skits like “Intermission”, “Finger Smoke”, “Be Proud” and “Horny Horns”- short instrumental tracks – give the album a continuity almost unheard of on many albums today.
You can listen and digest the album from start to finish and see what the beatnuts are up to artistically and musically. Some cats might suggest that the lyrics are weak on this album but i strongly digress. As for the music and beats? Jujus’s flow and Psycho’s wit are a perfect fit for the lovely soundpieces. The music is never overshadowed and the lyrics are never all that bad. If you don’t own this album, get it. Your Hip Hop collection is almost incomplete without it!
Bronx-bred producer-first and lyricist second, Diamond is especially skilled in mingling as a very efficient beatsmith and maybe not quite as much as an emcee. With a daunting task at hand, you go ‘head and try to match the classic status of “Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop, Diamond didn’t quite reach the extreme heights of creativity and originality attained on his unforgettable debut. Diamond’s sense of melody and rhythm make most of the 13 of 16 cuts he produced on “Hatred…” enjoyable instrumentally, but to be honest, there’s just something missing on this album. Was it the fact that this follow-up dropped nearly 5 (!!) years after “Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop”, and the album fell on deaf ears…many of whom were to concerned with poppin’ bottles of imaginary Cristal? Or was it the fact that Diamond was just trying to keep pace with the overall change and direction of Hip Hop? Who knows, but with all the pitfalls on the album there was still enough then and even today to not totally write this one off as a “sophomore slump”.
Lyrically, Diamond is fairly swift with the tongue. However, “Hatred” at times suffered from thematic inconsistency: two instances, “Can’t Keep My Grands To Myself” and “Cream N Sunshine” were totally out of place and were both blatant, if not forced, attempts by to attract a different fan-base than those with whom “Stunts…” had made such an everlasting, positive impression on. Even the production on both of the aforementioned joints were totally uncharacteristic from one of D.I.T.C.’s finest. The rest of the tracks on the album were, for the most part, a fairly enjoyable and quite entertaining listen. Diamond’s “wingman” for much of the disc, John Dough, added decent lyrics to “Flowin”, “On Stage” and “J.D.’s Revenge”. However, if it was intended for John Dough to be what Snoop was to Dre (or vise versa), than this project was a total failure. Phife of A.T.C.Q. and Pete Rock both popped up on “Painz and Strife” for a decent showing and D.I.T.C. card carrying members Fat Joe, Big L, Lord Finesse and A.G. all joined Diamond on “5 Fingas of Death” for a dark and memorable posse track. Also, Sadat X appeared on two cuts, “K.T.” and “On Stage”, injected a much needed dose of flavor into both.
Aside from the obvious blemishes on this LP, “Hatred, Passion & Infidelity” was a fairly accurate representation of Diamond’s more than capable skills not only on the boards, but on the mic as well. However, I can’t….in my right mind, recommend this album for everyone. For TRUE D.I.T.C and Diamond D fans this album is a must have, if you haven’t sampled any portion of Diamond’s work as of yet then proceed to “Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop”. Satisfaction guaranteed!
From coast to coast, Tracey Lee’s first single “The Theme”, with it’s catchy hook and squeaky scratches had turned empty dance floors into a sea of gyrating hips and sweaty feet. But the question remained “would Tracey strictly be a “One Hit Wonder” or a legitimate artist”? Sad to say, it turned out to be the later. From the beginning of “Many Facez” you could sense that Tracey was on some other sh*t lyrically. The title track opened you up to his split personality and found Tracey and featured various persona’s over a fairly average drum track. Clearly not the illest lyricist, throughout “Many Facez” Lee’s strong suit was his vibrant vocal delivery and clever punchlines. At times, Tracey breathed new light into tired themes such as hard times (”On The Edge”), loyalty to your homies (”Who’s Crew?”) and boy-girl relationships (”Give It Up Baby”), by injecting clever twists that changed the lyrical direction of each aforementioned track. However, the downfall of the album is it’s bland production that remained faceless, hampering things throughout the disc’s entirety. Who knows, with the right production line-up Tracey may have avoided the “One Hit Wonder” tag that caused him to fade into obscurity. Although, didn’t I just hear him on a 9th Wonder track a few years ago?
Chubb’s 1997 release “The Mind”, was…at times….a refreshing reminder of truly intelligent and sometimes comical style that made the Chubbster a sentimental favorite of mine. While Chubb Rock is definitely not for everyone, he’s a rare emcee who could speak on serious topics without taking himself and the message involved to seriously. With “The Mind”, Chubb boldly injected some fun back into a marketplace that was flooded with over-saturated gangsterisms. The album started off nicely with “Reputation”, complete with an appearance from the Blastmaster Krs-One, which is soon followed by “I Am What I Am” and “The Man”, which insightfully depicted Chubb’s remedy for his afflictions that plague male/female relationships. Also of note is “Last Poet”, which featured some of the gentle giant’s best lyrical barbs. However, “Don’t Sleep” took a painful dive towards the end of the disc as Chubb dished out a series of bland tunes, including “Shake It Up”, “Take Your Time”, “Wake Up” and “Ecstasy Baby”, all of which don’t quite hold up to the previous R & B/Hip Hop collabos that could be found on Chubb’s earlier classics. While devoted fans of Chubb Rock will find some joy in “The Mind” and skip over the mediocre moments, the majority of the public will probably just throw this one back in the old shoe box, favoring Chubb’s earlier classic output such as ”The One” or “…And The Winner Is”.
Troublesome selections like the cream rap/R&B abused “Take It To The Streets” (f. Billy Lawrence) and the overworked Cameo-sounding funk of “We Getz Down” were tracks that came off as overly arranged and artificially constructed, and are also cuts that stick in everyone’s mind who has ever heard Rampage’s debut album. Topping it all off, Rampage’s ill-advised cover of Public Enemy’s classic “Public Enemy #1″ only added to the tasteless streak of popularized Hip-Hop remakes during 1997…not the best year for the artform. It’s at those instances where “Scout’s Honor…” became hard to swallow, with it’s contrived attempts at fulfilling the hot trends of the “jiggy” era. However, this freshman LP and it’s various conceptual “no-no’s” were somewhat redeemed by the remainder of the surprisingly well-produced and well-executed tracks. The pleasing “Talk Of The Town”, with sparse piano sprinkles and rumbling bass knocks, the adrenaline laced posse cut “Flipmode Is Da Squad” and the spacey “Get Da Money & Dip” saved “Scout’s Honor” from the dark doldrums of complete wackness. Still none of the aforementioned songs hold a candle to the blazing B-Side “Wild For Da Night” where Rampage complements the charismatic animation of his cousin Busta to near perfection. Despite his passion and the album’s mostly melodic beats, Rampage’s “Scout’s Honor…” fell short of satisfying all the hungry listeners. Though it may have been sub-par to today’s “Golden Era” standards, this was actually a pretty solid effort when in comparison to the majority of “jiggy” Hip Hop being released in ‘97.