I’m sure many of you may remember Heltah Skeltah from their crazy ill debut “Nocturnal”, and even some of you younger cats may have already placed Sean Price atop your “favorite emcees of today” lists. So, you already know that the duo of Ruck and Rock packed more than enough skills to carry an album. Their back-and-forth rhyme tactics coupled with creative wordplay have been the brunt of the Boot Camp attack since Day One. Thankfully, the lyrical prowess and aggressiveness didn’t change much between “Magnum Force” and “Nocturnal”. The beats? Now, that’s another story….
Gone were the static and grit of The Beatminerz production team. Instead, producers like Grand Daddy IU, Self and NOD attempted to intertwine the roughness of Heltah Skeltah’s vocal texture over smoother, more polished sounds. You were more likely to hear the occasional strumming of an acoustic guitar, like in the title track, or even the cascading sounds of a harp, as on “Chicka Woo”. And while some thought that the duo’s sophomore endeavor appeared to be a blatant attempt at radio accessibility and commercial recognition, the less gritty music couldn’t be labeled truly as “commercial”, just for the the simple fact that it was….well…Heltah Skeltah!
The other major drawback with “Magnum Force” was the overabundance of odd outside appearances. The two non-crew related guest spots for Method Man on “Gunz N’ Onez” and Tha Dogg Pound featured “Brownsville To Long Beach” fell waaaaay short of expectations because simply put, the guest stars didn’t shine as brightly as one would expect. Only proving the point that Ruck and Rock are still some of the most underrated emcees in Hip-Hop today. Fortunately, for die-hard fans who missed that ol’ Duck Down flavor, “I Ain’t Havin’ That” and “Perfect Jab” provided the perfect trip down memory lane. However, in the long run, lackluster performances from affiliates seriously hindered not only the aforementioned cuts, but “Magnum Force” itself. Ruck and Rock may have thought it was cool to invite family, but most of us just wanted to hear them shine on their own as they did with “Nocturnal”.
You can’t think “Hip Hop” and not think of Brand Nubian. Whether or not my affinity of the four man crew of Grand Puba, Lord Jamar, Sadat X & Alamo stems from recollections of their 5% tinged gem “One For All” and adrenaline rushes from classics such as ”Punks Jump Up…”, Brand Nubian’s long-running formula of urban grit combined with God/Earth dogma holds a permanent place in rap consciousness. After a few shaky solo outings (“Reel To Reel”, “2000″ and “Wild Cowboys”) the crew reunited for 1998′s eagerly awaited “Foundation”.
Crafting “Foundation” had to be quite difficult. After all, it’s practically standard format that 95% of all Hip-Hop’s comeback attempts crash & burn, to say the very least. On a positive note, the album did make smart concessions to keep up with the changing sound of the new milenium, doing themselves a solid by enlisting the production talents of DJ Premier for the first single from the album, appropriately titled “The Return”. This track is highlighted by the precise cuts and clever usage of textures that defined the majority of Gang Starr’s albums. Other smart production choices included employing D.I.T.C. mainstay Buckwildfortwo cuts: the aggressive, bass-heavy, return to “One For All”, “Brand Nubian”, and the moving, Common Sense assisted, “Maybe One Day”. Even Lord Finesse dropped by with his two contributions, “Love vs. Hate”, which featured an array of moody textures and boom bap drum kicks, and “U For Me” a swayer in itself.
However, “Foundation” also contained a few “head-scratchers”. Most of which were outrageus attempts at dance anthems, “Let’s Dance”, “Too Late” are both joints that are classic “W.T.F?” moments. Also, the rehashed late 80′s samples that fueled “Probable Cause” and “I’m Black and I’m Proud” are lackluster as well. However, even at times when Brand Nubian is void of the sonic divide, they usually came through with consistent, hi-potent narratives. Puba, Jamar and Dottie X maintained their abilities to spit pro-Blackness and drop gems of 5% science without coming across overly preachy or dated. Hell, they even managed to upend the anti-woman cloud that hovered over them (remember “Slow Down”?) with the graceful “Sincerely”.
“Foundation” wasn’t a return to the 5-mic glory days of “One For All”, but it was a solid effort from a legendary crew nonetheless. Avoiding the materialistic gun-play madness of much of ’98 Hip Hop, Brand Nubian reunited to deliver a heartfelt piece of work, and that’s all you can ask for, right?
Is Pete Rock the best producer of all time? Damn, that is one call that is way too close for comfort, I’m sure DJ Premier, Dr. Dre & the RZA may have something to say about it. Whatever the case, one thing is for sure…Pete Rock is legendary and there will never be another producer quite like the “chocolate boy wonder” from Mt.Vernon. While I haven’t been too impressed with some of Pete’s more recent work, earlier gems such as “T.R.O.Y”, P.E.’s “Shut Em’ Down” (remix) and Run D.M.C.’s “Down With The King” have truly caused aspiring producers to rethink their production gameplaninthis Rap shit. With the #1 Soul Brother’s collaborative effort “Soul Survivor, Pete reached out to some of the hottest emcees to ever pick up the mic on this 1998 release on the now defunct (but never forgotten) Loud Records.
Just taking a gander at the all-star lineup (Large Pro, Kool G Rap, Ghostface, Rae’, Tragedy, O.C., Sticky Fingaz, Big Pun, MC Eiht, Black Thought, etc.) for “Soul Survivor”, it’s nearly enough to give die hard Pete Rock fans an orgasm. “Soul Survivor” burst out the gates with the first single and video “Tru Master”, (which features the odd pairing of Inspectah Deck, Kurupt & Pete himself) and never lets up until it’s closing with the Heavy D & BeenieManfeatured “Massive”. While there where a few “miscues” on “Soul Survivor” (namely the “R & B” cuts “Take Your Time” and the album’s title track), it’s hard not to love many of the emcee combinations on this album that blend like lyrical gumbo over Pete’s buttery production. One thing is for sure, no matter who spits on a Pete Rock track there will never be another emcee that meshes perfectly over “Petestrumentals” quite like partner in rhyme CL Smooth. The somewhat of a “reunion” track “Da Two” served as just a teaser for fans of the duo, who could only catch a glimpse of what might have been in store with this “Blind Alley” sampled track. I’m gonna’ go out on a limb here and say that ”Da Two” very well may be my favorite Pete & CL track, right behind “T.R.O.Y.” Oh, and I can’t forget to mention yet another pairing of legendary emcees on the re-working of Kool G. Rap & Polo’s “Truly Yours”. Large Pro & Kool G Rap nearly top the original with the appropriately titled “Truly Yours 98″, displaying noticeable chemistry that may have evolved from the duo’s prior work on G. Rap & Polo’s classic”Wanted: Dead Or Alive”.
So the final question is…..if you had to pick one (and only one) “reunion” album, from who would it be? EPMD? Gang Starr? 3rd Bass? Main Source? Nah, I’m riding with Pete Rock & CL Smooth…..”When They Reminisce Over Your, My Gawd!”
Released in 1998 on MCA Records All City’s “Metropolis Gold” has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. I mean, taking a look at some of the producers featured on this album (Primo, Pete Rock, EZ Elpee, Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence, Rockwilder, Clark Kent, etc.) one can nearly salivate at the thought of what a gem “Metropolis Gold” could have been. One theory that I have is that this album was dropped entirely too late and included waaaay to many failed attempts at radio play. Wasn’t the gritty, but all-too-short “Who Dat” leaked to the streets in something like 1995 (damn, that beat knocked…way too short though). Hell, I can remember it being featured on DJ Cash Money’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Diner” mixtape that same year. If you read my “Top 25 Beats” list you already know how passionate I am about Primo’s production featured on “The Actual” and the Pete Rock produced “Priceless” is the dope that we’ve come to expect from one of the greatest producers of our era. Even Pete’s choice of the Biggie sample “I want the fuckin‘ fortune like the wheel” elevates the track that much more. Hell, even the FredroStarr produced (shit, are we ever gonna’ forgive dude for “starring” on Moesha?) “Xtreme” bangs, as the funky horn loop and steady bump of the track will no doubt have your head noddin‘.
It’s not that emcees Greg Valentine & J Mega aren’t entertaining….it’s just that lyrically they’re really not sayin‘ much. You can even hear a little Mase influence on the piss poor attempt at urban radio play, the Clark Kent produced “Hot Joint” and speaking of “piss poor”, go head’ and throw “Live It Up” in that category as well. Hmmm, let’s see….what else? Oh, the V. Black produced “Afta Hourz” is a nice little track that combines elements of both Primo & Pete Rock to formulate an impressive piece of work that is delivered from a “no name” producer.
This album is the yin & the yang of being released on the cusp of a commercialized new era, there are joints that are hard enough and deliver enough mid 90’s boom bap too keep you eager to listen. Although, there are enough “jiggy” attempts to keep you pissed off and throw this album underneath your passenger seat only to never be given another play. Nevertheless, All City’s first at bat, though not a home-run, isn’t a strikeout either. With their take it-or leave it strategy, each song had the capacity to satisfy a wide margin of the crossover public, while still preserving the “keep-it-real” essence.
For one thing, M.O.P. and my temper just don’t mix! Let me expound, back in the warm fall of 1998 “First Family 4 Life” was in pretty frequent rotation in my bachelor pad that I shared along with my cousin (who was a High School history teacher) and one of my summer league Basketball croonies (whom I don’t think ever paid a month’s rent or cleaned his nasty-ass room during his seven month stay). First of all, I was only “living” there because my girlfriend slash beeyatch! (no…really, you have no idea!) of 3 years and I were on a temporary “hiatus” so to speak (read: boyfriend liked to drink and blow money, which could’ve been the result of “I was 21 and she was 29″) and my cousin/roomate did me a solid and let me crash there until I got my sh*t together (I think I was working morning shift at UPS during this whole time frame). Okay, before I rant on some “it doesn’t pertain to me Eric, so what’s your point!” bullshit, I’ll do just that …..get to the point.
As I mentioned “First Family 4 Life” along with Fat Joe’s “Don Cartegena” (not one of my finer moments in Hip Hop) were constantly on “blast” throughout our weekly College Football Saturdays/NCAA Football 98′ on Playstation between games rivalries. Now, these NCAA 98′ games got to be pretty freakin‘ heated, with me being the hothead/shit talker that I’ve always been and my cousin who also ran about 6′5″ 230/240 lbs. being neck and neck with me as far as temperament. Well, let’s just say that I’m glad we had some cheap ass furniture, because most of it ended up in shambles as the result of M.O.P./Captain Morgan & Coke binges. Two equally competitive natures equalling a fistfight or wrestling around on the floor like madmen trying to get a good lick in.
What about the album Eric? I really don’t have shit to say about “First Family 4 Life” other than it’s M.O.P. and M.O.P.=QUALITY ruckus, party-starter type shit! I will say this though, listening to “New York Salute” off of the album today made me realize…..no one has hooked me up with the Da Beatminerz remix of D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” yet (it uses the same sample as “New York Salute”). Whaddup peoples….hook a brotha‘ up! Dayum!!