Welcome to underground Hip Hop folks, the only place where all four preserved elements-DJing, emceein’, graf and B-Boyin’ remain. The underground also….even to this day, stays far from the public eye, instead being passed over by consumers searchingfor more “commercial” fads and music. With that in mind, you can’t gauge the heat (pun intended) that the five man crew of the Arsonists brought forth on their debut, “As The World Burns”, even though most of the “burning” would go largely unnoticed. This fiveman collective captured the true essence of the “underground” with freestyle flows and stories that boasted witty metaphors and similes, dope beats and energy reminiscent of the early Leaders Of The New School days.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect to “As The World Burns” was the group’s energy, the same energy that Hip Hop seemed to lack after 1995. Check the hard drum track of “Shaboing” as Q-Unique spit verbal gems such as: “Like a sunset scenery/I’m like the bottom of the eye chart/’Cause rappers ain’t seein’ me… Also, the hilarious and clever “Lunchroom Take-Out” and “Freinemies” highlighted the groups potent strengths-free-styling and dope wordplay. Paying tribute to Hip Hop’s underground, “Underground Vandal” the Arsonists defined their mission throughout much of “As The World Burns” with this one single track. The only real downside to the album is that many of the tracks shared the same mood. The lack of tempo change tends to become the group’s Achilles’ heal, as the album is essentially one big cypher of emcees with exceptional skills. However, what mattered most with this release was the feedback of “the underground” and as the years have passed since 1999, “As The World Burns” remains as a definite “must-cop” if you consider yourself a consumer of the underground market. Like Primo said: (underground Hip Hop is) “always livin’ never dyin”…
Poised to make his own mark without the assistance of E-Swift and J-Ro and set it off on his own during Hip Hop’s “Platinum Era”, Tash emerged in ’99 with his solo debut, “Rap Life”. In no way did this solo effort mark the break-up of Tash and his fellow ‘Liks, but Tash did maintain the level of dopeness that became standard on most of the ‘Liks full-lengths. Over the years, Tha Liks have remained as the one group that managed to rise above the stagnation that gripped most of the Westside, as they strayed far away from the curse better know as “G Funk” overdose. And despite minor flaws such as limited subject matter and a few useless skits this solo effort from Tash represented another beacon of hope for the West to shake free of the “G Funk” label.
On “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy”, Tash boasted of his lyrical expertise over KC & The Sunshine Band’s “I Get Lifted”, add a crafty hook comprised of Waterbed Kev’s rallying cry, “PuertoRico! Ho!” and you had a certified hit. “G’s Is G’s” and the album’s title cut, featuring Kurupt and Raekwon respectively, came off as radio friendly bangers that pretty much summed up the subject matter of the whole album: the life of a rap star, complete with ho’s, money and naysayers. Production on “Rap Life” showcased flavors from all coasts that mixed together like rum & Coke without sounding too contrived. But hands down, the gem of the album was “Falling On” where Tash spit with the charismatic delivery of an early Big Daddy Kane.
Note from Eric: Yes, I realize this album “officially” dropped in 2000, but hey, this is the last installment of “I Love The 90′s” and “Fantastic” (at least a good portion of it) was fairly familiar to the listening public in the late-90′s.
“A Tribe Called Quest” game three outstanding albums (their first three that is)! I liked their “Beats, Rhymes and Life” but as a follow-up to “Midnight Marauders”, well, I guess you could only lose. It was a good album and it felt very much like my “Tribe”, it just didn’t knock me out my socks. More significantly, they introduced us to their new production team “The Ummah”, consisting of Q-Tip, Ali and a kid they had met backstage at a show in Detroit (The question at hand, why would those guys need some help anyway???). “The Love Movement” on the other hand will forever be their least appreciated piece of work. For once, they had already announced their break-up, stating that this would be their last album (Great PR- yeah right), plus the sound and feel of the album was just too different. If you’re a crate-digger and you’ve came across some the tunes ATCQ have sampled for their first three albums, you will notice very straight-forward techniques (less chopped up pieces, more or less multi-layered loops), typical light drum-sounds with abounding detail on their arrangements. Now, I challenge anybody to name me three samples of the “Love Movement”! You’ll get the idea? I very much hope so… Jay Dee, and if you listen to the “Love Movement” right now (matter of fact do it RIGHT NOW), was way ahead of his time and his testament is not the music that he has left behind, it’s inarguably the respect, the admiration and marveling his peers and colleagues showcase when they still talk about him!
Never compromising his integrity as an artist, Dilla influenced the modern sound (not only Hip Hop) in many ways beyond comprehension: He single-handedly made it cool to replace the snare with a clap; he chopped up samples soooohard, I bet the original artist wouldn’t recognize their own work. Overall, a genius who’s left us way too early. Slum Village? Anything after “Fantastic Vol.2″ flew under my radar. I didn’t like the MCs back then and the only reason “Fantastic Vol.2″ was and still is a winner are the beats and the guest-features. If Busta Rhymes provides the best verse on your album, you sure have a huge problem Homie! Great production, good guests, disillusioned MCs… R.I.P. Jay Dilla…-Rasul
Eric adds: Shouldering the high standard imposed by the Tribe comparisons, T-3, Jay Dee and Baatin provided the right combination of humor, arrogance and microphone abilities. They tactfully bounced in and out of “Fantastic” without ever being overpowered or upstaged by the bass-heavy production. And even though the trio relied primarily on sampling, the tracks had the kind of dense instrumentation that could actually be mistaken for a live band. With such an endorsement and beats by the late Dilla, Slum Village’s “Fantastic..” had to be good-and it was.
On my favorite track, “Conant Gardens” a homage is paid to S Villa’s home turf, the D. This track was just a beginning to introduce us to how Detroit MC’s could get down. And “Fall In Love” employed an amazing track and chanted hook where the trio pondered their love/hate relationship with the jaded state of Hip Hop. Slum Village wasn’t afraid to employ the talents of already established and charismatic emcees either. “The Hustle” featured the zany Busta Rhymes and Pete Rock graced “Once Upon A Time” with his legendary presence. And while there were a few “clubby” tracks, overall “Fantasic Vol. II” was loaded with mellow tracks and quality material. However, periodically, the album slid into a few moments of monotony, Slum Village’s follow to the first installment “Vol I” was damn near a classic album!
No bones about it: by the time that Nas’ “I Am” dropped in 1999 the “Nasty” in the Nas was dead. Despite desperate cries from devout fans who longed for Nas’ return to the days of his “Illmatic” debut, all we had to feed off of prior to this release was the disaster better known as the “Firm Fiasco”. Fortunately, with the release of “I Am”, Nas’ “Esco” persona seemed dead as well, ultimately destroyed by the illmatic ghost of “Nasty” Nas that emerged to also replace Nas Escobar with the release of “I Am”. Confused? Well, after one listen to the first single release from this album, “Nas Is Like”, the Primo-laced classic, traces of the Nas that appeared on the Main Source classic “Live At The BBQ” could be found. Not since Large Pro and Naslinkedup for “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” did we hear such an amazing chemistry on one single Nas track. Nas’ project-induced poetics, coupled with Preem’s hauntingstrings, still give me goosebumps to this day. And in case you forgot (since it was nearly 5 years after the release of “Illmatic”) just how “Nasty” Nas could get, Primo’s stratched hook used some of Nas now classic phrases such as: “Nas Is Like…life or death/My poetry’s deep, I never fell…/Half man, Half Amazin’. Indeed, a sweet trip down “Memory Lane”, pun intended by the way.
With offerings like “Money Is My Bitch”, a near genioustrackin terms of metaphors, and “Favor For A Favor”, which featured the always captivating Scarface. For further proof that Nas hadn’t fallen off with the release of the Firm album, the one man who came to embody Hip Hop’s adoration of all things material (Puffy) emerged to declare Nas’ continued existence on the venomous, “Hate Me Now”. While Nas’ duet with DMXon”Life Is What You Make It” wasn’t really anything to write home about, his experimentaion with the ever-so-popular Mid-West flow on “Big Thangs” and his cinematic depiction of domestic violence, “Underlying Love” found Nasathis most creative on “I Am”. Also, don’t sleep on Nas’ call to arms on “Ghetto Prisoners Rise”, his indictment of the government on “C.I.A.” or Nas’ ’99 version of “One Love” the instrospecitve letter to Big and Pac, “We Will Survive”. Plus, I hate to say it but I think Primo may have even one-upped himself with his re-working of the classic “N.Y. State Of Mind” on “Pt. II”, and lyrically Nasdidn’tfall off one bit on the second ‘go round. Needless to say, if anything was accomplished by Nasonthis record, he solidified his “Nasty” status. However, there’s no mistaking, that the “Nasty” was questioned (once again) with the all-too-soon release of the sub-par “Nastradamus”, or as I like to call it the “I Am left-overs” that weren’t good enough to make the cut.
Ever since the release of their debut EP, “Intoxicated Demons”, Psycho Les and JuJu have bestowed our minds, bodies and souls with classic Hip Hop. With straight up, no frils, trunk popping beats and unmatched microphone brashness, the Beatnuts will always remain as one of my favorite groups ever, and even though they added a few aliases to their brew on “A Musical Massacre” the ‘Nuts still remained as cool as the other side of the pillow. The Beatnuts will always be known as those cats that were cool enough to be crazy and crazy enough to be cool.
From the jump, the sick strings on “Beatnuts Forever” found Juju “(killing) everybody at work and taking the day off” and on the Cheryl “Pepsi” Riley assisted “I Love It”, the ‘Nuts claimed to be those dudes that “lent O.J. the glove”. Bad influences were unleashed on Common, taking him out of his shell for an odd pairing that worked on “Slam Pit”. Hell, even Psycho Les’ daughter warned for you to “watch your step” atop the ill piano loop found on “You’re A Clown”. Even though the Beatnuts conducted their standard protocol: fuc*ing, drinking and smokin’ some sh*t, “Look Around” (which featured dead prez) found them acting responsible and reflective. However, don’t get it twisted, such sentiments are few and far between on “Massacre..”. Plus, who could ever forget the catchy as hell follow up to “Off The Books”, “Watch Out Now”. Simply put, the ‘Nuts had it right when they titled their “greatest hits” album of sorts “Classic Nuts”, no doubt that’s what these cats put out….CLASSICS indeed!