Back in ’95, Ras Kass was pinned as the apparent “savior” of West Coast lyricism, a vernacular powerhouse emerging from the fog of G-Funk. Still, his debut, “Soul On Ice” didn’t quite live up to all the hype that it garnered. This lyrically rich, conceptually-heavy album was betrayed by so-called “less-than-stellar” production and Ras’ flame was on the edge of burning out. Thankfully, this Golden State Warrior didn’t let this do him in and went right back to the lab. On Ras’ second effort, “Rasassination” the self proclaimed water-proof emcee kept the lyrics flowing with a bigger emphasis on the beats.
On Ras’ sophomore LP, he reached out to some friends in a valiant attempt to surpass the sales of his debut. “Ghetto Fabulous” found Ras teaming up with California mainstays Dr. Dre & Mack 10. “Ice Age” featured the verbal jabs of fellow “somewhat lyrical” emcees Kurupt and El Drex, and the electro-funkish’ “All Or Nuthin” united Ras with the lightning quick delivery of Chi-Town’s very own, Twista. Hell, even the RZA joined the party on the album’s closer, “The End”, rhyming over an ill (as expected) Easy Mo Bee track.
However, “Rasassination” had it’s inconsistencies as well. Songs like “Interview With A Vampire”, an eerie, God vs. the Devil type track falter. While, Ras’ R & Bish’ forays were even more troublesome. The swirling “Lap Dance” should have been left on the chopping block and “It Is What It Is” just wasn’t up to par with Ras’ heavy lyrics. Reliant on lyrical gymnastics, Ras’ multi-layered rhyme schemes were so intricate that many tracks will take more than a few listens to decipher (a la Ghostface). However, as with most so called “deep” lyricists, finding the proper production to complement their verbal skills apparently isn’t as easy as it may appear. Sadly enough, in the end, the pitfalls of ”Rasassination” ended up mirroring those of his debut, “Soul On Ice”. Still, the lyrics and flow were out of this world and few could hold a torch to Ras in that aspect.
“Visualizing the realism of life and actuality / Fuck who’s the baddest a person’s status depends on salary / And my mentality is, money orientated / I’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it”: Mesmerizing sentences that should have sparked up a matchless vocation! Well sadly enough, they didn’t. Coming off a feature-guest-part on one the best Hip Hop albums of all time, AZ released his first album “Do Or Die” in 1995, to capture the true essence of New York to the fullest degree. I say true essence because Biggie was declared as the king of the mountain based on his commercial success and Puffy’s unparalleled ethics but AZ, yeah, AZ represented the five deadly borrows (especially Brooklyn) more accordingly.
Back then, everybody on the streets or in ciphers mimicked him, everybody tried to emulate his multi layered, multi-syllable rhyme patterns and divulge on his mastery of wordplay. The Notorious was labeled “good” but AZ was labeled “great”, although obviously less successful. I recently read how AZ is considered of one of the few artists, who had rarely compromised his integrity. Bullshit! I consider 1998 as the mark of the beast: A lot of stuff went wrong that year (Matter of fact, this is a good subject for another post and I will explain myself more in-depth- why don’t you guys help Eric and me out and name all the albums that came out that year?) and AZ, along with Nas, Nature and Foxy, sold his soul to Jimmy and Dre and recorded the Firm album.
Couple of months later “Pieces Of A Man” came out, trying to capitalize off the Firm notion; a body of work that covered all the facets in demand, ranging from the ever so popular “let’s sample a 80’s soul classic” joint (”How Ya Lovin’”, “What’s The Deal Half-A-Mil” and “Just Because” that is probably one of the best efforts ever among that genre), the “I rather be a Cuban” joint (”Sosa”), the obligatory Wu-Banger (”Whatever Happened” with RZA) to the always irritating R&B extravaganzas (”Betcha Don’t Know”). Nevertheless, his rhymes and choice of contents carried the whole album and made it very fun to listen to. But AZ indeed compromised a lot, choosing the beats he chose, and unfortunately never bounced back…-Rasul
He useta’ roll with Ice T. He made the whole word “jump” back in ’92 with House Of Pain, and made them jump even higher when the Pete Rock remix of “Jump Around” hit airwaves. In ’98, shortly after overcoming a massive heart attack, one of the dopest whiteboys to pic up the mic returned….on “some other sh*t”. Recorded under his new alias, “Whitey Ford Sings The Blues” was a collection of Hip Hop meets Rock that truly only appealed to open-minded fans.
Much like Wyclef, armed with his guitar Everlast strummed along on the panoramic, “Ends” and spoke on society’s ills with the mega-large hit “What It’s Like” (don’t front, you know that sh*t was dope!). But, it was tracks like the Sadat X featured “Money (Dollar Bill)” and “Praise The Lord” (produced by Tha Liks’ E-Swift), more traditional Hip Hop tales, where Everlast sounded at home the most. While the musical focus of this album shifted from the Heavy Metal-ish “Hot To Death” (produced by Divine Styler) to the old-school, Casual and Sadat X featured, “Funky Beat”, one thing was very evident: Everlast thought Hip Hop sucked in the 9-8. And with production from the likes of the SD50′s (who handled the majority of the album’s production) and Prince Paul, along with lyrical features from the well-revered, aforementioned emcees, Everlast just choose an “alternative” (pun intended) route to unleash his angst, as he did on much of his work with House of Pain.
As the dysfunctional member of the Likwit crew, X to the Z made quite a bit of noise with his 1996 debut, “At The Speed Of Life”, an album that many consider to be Xzibit’s best effort to date. Devoid of all the hype and expectations, Xzibit’s debut was commercially ignored, but X showed some promise on tracks like “Paparazzi” and “The Foundation”. Looking to capitalize off of his first underground release, Xzibit’s sophomore album, contained a scrupulous collection of songs. From one bar to the next, X delivered potent lyrics with relative ease. His voice reverberates with his signature husky gruff that was neither distracting or annoying, similar to Nine’s.
Since it’s X’s delivery that took center stage, the stripped-down tunes were the album’s true gems as the sparseness served to highlight his voice. The plucking bassline that underlied “Los Angeles Times”, which also appeared on the “Soul In The Hole” soundtrack, made the song flow smoothly, while the booming drums of “Chamber Music”, the LP’s opener, accomplished the same effect. While Xzibit proved he can definitely hold his own on the mic, he did benefit when going toe to toe with other rhyme spitters. Not surprisingly, both of his clicks caught wreck. Xzibit cracked brews with tha Liks and King Tee on “Let It Rain”, and “3 Card Molly” showcased his chemistry with fellow Golden State Warriors Ras Kass and Saafir. Even Method Man and Jayo Felony came along for the ride on the vulgar “Pussy Pop”.
Even though it may have lacked a strong concept, “40 Dayz & 40 Nightz” still delivered on many fronts. While some minor tweaking was evident on sluggish cuts like “Shroomz” and “Nobody Sound Like Me”, Xzibit only further cemented his place as one of the best to emerge from the West Coast with this solid sophomore follow-up.
If you don’t know about DJ Kiiiiiid Capri!!, go back and check your History lessons. This former mix-tape DJ/Turntable technician has already secured his place in the annals of Hip Hop history. Sh*t, he was even voted as the “Greatest DJ Of All Time” in the Source’s 100th Anniversary issue. However, in ’98 the half Black, half Italian sound provider had a few new tricks up his sleeve. For “Soundtrack Of The Streets”, Capri was back to making beats, and along with some of Hip Hop’s elite giving Funk Flex a run for his money as well.
Not surprisingly, good tunes weren’t too hard to find. Jay-Z did a decent job with “Like That”, the Lox and Foxy Brown combined for the sinister “My Nig*az”, but it was the slammin’ “Unify” that brought Snoop and Slick Rick together. Opting for national acclaim, Capri showed love throughout areas outside of the Rotten Apple with songs like the Kurupt, Eightball and Too Short led “Creepin”, the Ras Kass ignited “One and One”, and the signature Luke booty-romp, “When We Party”. Minus a few minor fast-forward moments like the lacluster Nas performance displayed on the title track, Capri returned to the scene and crafted an impressive compilation from a wide array of established artists.