Headz Ain’t Ready”, can you recall the classic Boot Camp Click cut released around ‘95? Truer words were never spoke, especially when it pertained to Saafir’s….”deep breath”…CLASSIC debut on Qwest Records, 1994’s “Boxcar Sessions”. Hailing from the Bay, Saafir was fortunate to have appeared on not only Casual’s “Fear Itself”, but he also played a huge role in the party that was Digital Underground’s “The Body Hat Syndrome”. With a fresh deal from Qwest, the Saucee Nomad was joined by his Hobo Junction production team (J Groove, Rational, Jay-Z..not that one, and Poke Marshall) to release a phenomenal debut that was stacked with endless freestyle rhymes. Unfortunately, probably the biggest exposure that Saafir ever received was from his appearance in “Menace II Society”, you may remember him as the dude that gets shot up while sittin’ at the red light.
During the mid-90’s the Bay was flooded with “gangsta” rappers and G-Funk, but not every rapper that came up in Oakland or the Bay Area was all about being “hard” 24/7/365. Saafir, for example, was the farthest thing from either of the “tags” that were usually placed upon acts such as Mac Mall, Spice 1 or Pooh-Man. “Boxcar Sessions” is an abstract, jazz influenced take on Hip Hop from the Left Coast. In terms of complexity and abstraction, Saafir’s rhymes and style (which was nothing but a bunch of freestyles) was right up there with more “well-known” acts such as A.T.C.Q., Digable Planets and The Pharcyde. Just as jazzy as the aforementioned emcees, Saafir’s lyrics are anything but “simplistic”. However, unlike Digable, De La or even The Pharcyde to a certain extent, Saafir never really embraced the whole neo-hippie vibe. Addressing the “sucker MC’s” and “player haters” in an angry, aggressive fashion, Saafir declared war on all phony, fake emcees with his venomous delivery. Tracks like the first single (see below) “Light Sleeper”, “Can You Feel Me” and “Worship The D (the di*ck, that is)” never seem to get old, and the Chubb Rock sampled “Real Circus” is in one word or less…..SICK!
I’ve grown to love this CD more and more over the years, even though I copped the tape back in ‘94 strictly on the strength of dude’s appearance in “Menace”. Yet, over the last year or so, my take on much of the new music that’s dropping has been halted, much in part to the constant rotation of “Boxcar Sessions”. While Saafir could have stood to trim down some of the meaningless skits on the album, it’s safe to say that there really isn’t one weak track on the album. Even though some may find Saafir’s rhymes to be on Keith Murray’s level of complexity, I feel that this is actually a more enjoyable listen than Mr. Murray’s debut. While, freestyling was nothin’ new in ‘94, Saafir found clever, interesting ways to boast about his rhyming skills and tore down emcees, head to toe. Whether t’s Saafir’s overall style or the jazzy, bass-heavy production, “Boxcar Sessions” was surprisingly refreshing, even today.
Some of the more “trendier” aspects of Hip Hop can wreck havoc on your mindset when beat into the ground. For example, in the middle stages of 1992 a very charismatic, original and catchy duo emerge from the “sewa” to display a cutting edge vocal delivery that instantly placed them in a league of their own. However, a countless number of biters and less talented emcees (I see you Cube!!) not only steal your vocal style, they then proceed to mock it to the point of over-saturation. Sensitive to the style that which they seemingly created, this said duo proceeds to drop a second opus that almost completely abandoned the style and delivery that helped to make them a household name in Hip Hop in the first place. That decision, when coupled with production that was a notch below the quality of their first album “Dead Serious”, brought the masses a very disappointing follow-up to a now CLASSIC debut. Void of their initial brilliance, Das Efx’ “Straight Up Sewaside” was the sad result of being too original for their own good, in a sense. Needless to say, the pressure for Das Efx to drop a yet another dope album was at an all-time high prior to the release of Das Efx’ third venture, “Hold It Down”. Thankfully, the duo of Drazy and Bookz came off much more relaxed and at ease on this offering. Even at times revisiting the the sound that was first unveiled on their phenomenal debut.
With “Hold It Down” Das returned, albeit to a lesser extent, to the stiggedy-stuttered delivery and off-the-wall pop culture references that helped Das Efx’ sudden rise to popularity. Beat-wise, “Hold It Down” was heads and shoulders above the production that found itself plodding along on “Straight Up Sewaside” (although, listening to the album today, it comes off much more crisp then it did in ’93). Beatmasters such as DJ Premier and Easy Mo Bee were obvious assets, especially when providing the dusty drums, creeping basslines, the horn textures, crisp hi-hats and ridiculous bottom on tracks like “No Diggedy” and “Hold It Down”. But, maybe the greatest benefit may have been the regained confidence, swagger and self-assurance from both of the unique emcees. “Hold It Down’s” consistency, however, was also plagued by it’s lengthiness at times…..nearly outlasting both “Dead Serious” and “Straight Up…” in total tracks. Nineteen (twenty, if you count the Pete Rock remix of “Real Hip Hop”) joints on an album doesn’t necessarily equate to a more attractive picture for the consumer dropping his or her hard-earned dollar. Not everyone has a “Mecca & The Soul Brother” under their belt. With large volume, mediocrity has a tendency to set in. Had Das maybe trimmed down the album to say….12 cuts or so, they would have definitely produced a sharper, more potent piece of work. Nevertheless, “Hold It Down” hoisted Das back to the forefront of Hip Hop, and they transformed into the stylistic mic wielders that we first fell in love with during the nine-deuce.
“Real Hip Hop”