My man Eric and I are back at it again, doing the “I Love The 90′s” series that we started last year (Eric finished it after I got sick and fell behind). There is soooooo much music out there from the 90′s that is getting lost in the shuffle of the classics. Nothing wrong with the classics, there is a reason why they are classics, but this year, I hope to bring a little something different to the table with the 90′s series. We are doing three albums a week for each year, and I’ll pick one personal classic, which isn’t always the traditional classics, an album that I personally slept on, to maybe expose myself to some music that I originally glossed over the first time around and one album that I haven’t heard before, which surprisingly, there are a few of those.
The Trav “Classic”
Above The Law - Livin’ Like Hustlers (Ruthless, 1990)
By 1990, NWA and all of it’s individual members were running shit. Eazy’s Ruthless Records was starting to really spread and Dr. Dre was riding the wave of success from the NWA, Eazy E, and DOC projects that he produced for. They were the king shit. For the next wave of Ruthless acts and Dr. Dre produced projects, Above The Law dropped their short and precise effort in the form of Livin’ Like Hustlers.
Made up of Cold 187um, Go Mack, KMG and DJ Total K-Oss, Above The Law was one of the main focuses of the early Ruthless days. In 1990, they dropped their debut album, Livin Like Hustlers, some say an early predecessor of the G-Funk sound that was soon to come. Dr. Dre gets the credit for the production found on the album, although there is some debate to that claim from Cold 187um. Cold 187 has said the group did most of the production on the LP, while Dr.Dre gets the majority of the credit. While it’s arguable, but this is probably the best produced album out of their catalog. The majority of the material sounds Dre-ish in nature, but there is also some stuff that doesn’t sound like what Dre was coming with during that time period. On the mic, it’s mainly Cold 187 aka Big Hutch handles the rhyming duties, with KMG offering some adlib help and the such.
Livin’ Like Hustlers is lead off by one of my all-time favorite west coast tracks, “Murder Rap”. You know this has to be a typical Trav track with the siren like synth running berserk through out the track. It also has the backwards scratch that sounds like someone is ripping of the roof of your ride when you play it on a strong system. I want to say that “Murder Rap” was my introduction to Above The Law, as it was their first single released. Here is where I’d post a video of “Murder Rap”, but since Sony BMG obviously hasn’t learned that videos of songs help promote the music, we’ll just say “fuck you” to Sony for disabling the embed feature on youtube and move on.
When the album dropped, I was pleasantly impressed with the wide variety of production found on Livin Like Hustlers. “Murder Rap”, is the “hardest” track found on the album, but “Another Execution” comes in a close second. Thanks to the hard drums, this dark and menacing track is a soundtrack for a drive-by waiting to happen. Cold 187 has an unique voice and a delivery that works well with tracks such as the singles, “Livin’ Like Hustlers” and “Untouchable”, which both are on some smooth gangsta shit. Dre used some fairly familiar/common samples for the album, which makes this a type of release that is easy to divulge yourself into. You will recognize the smooth vibes of “Float On (Move Me No Mountain)”, the piano sample used on “Freedom of Speech”, which was featured on the white slacker Christian Slatner flick, “Pump Up The Volume”. The possible jewel of the album though is in the form of “The Last Song”, the posse cut that was often found at the end of Ruthless releases in those days. This is quite possibly my favorite of the posse cuts found on the Ruthless albums, as everyone involved brings the lyrical heat.
When it’s all said and done, I still consider Livin’ Like Hustlers one of my all-time favorite west coast releases. The music, the vibe, the lyrics, they all come together to form a short but sweet release that should be cemented in history as one of the better releases to come out of the west.
The Slept On Album
Paris – The Devil Made Me Do It (Tommy Boy, 1990)*
|2||Scarface Groove (4:35)|
|3||This Is A Test (2:47)|
|4||Panther Power (3:58)|
|5||Break The Grip Of Shame (3:34)|
|9||On The Prowl (1:10)|
|10||The Devil Made Me Do It (4:12)|
|11||The Hate That Hate Made (1:09)|
|12||Mellow Madness (4:50)|
|13||I Call Him Mad (4:16)|
|14||Escape From Babylon (5:18)|
|16||Break The Grip Of Shame (The Final Call) (8:02)|
|17||The Devil Made Me Do It (Poach A Pig Mix) (5:44)|
There are always different reasons for me sleeping on albums, it could be I can’t relate to it, or it’s out of my particular tastes, sometimes it’s where the album is from, like I tend to overlook the international album. While I sat down to listen to the Paris album, The Devil Made Me Do It, I can’t really pick out a reason why I never really got into Paris. In some ways, I think it made me uncomfortable. It was like having an angry black man yelling at me. I got into some of the black conscious music of the early 90′s, and I still consider Public Enemy one of my all-time favorite groups, but Paris and his message was up another notch. Chuck D and KRS weren’t as angry, thus it wasn’t as intimidating. Even Ice Cube, who had an angry streak on Death Certificate, came off as someone who do all the shit he was saying, like Paris was doing.
I was first exposed to Paris through the same means as most of the music I was exposed to in those days, “Yo! MTV Raps”, through the incredibly dope “Break The Grip of Shame”. The video was often shown on the hip hop video show. I remember liking the track, with it’s deep bass line and scratching over the chorus, things that I really got down with at that time (and still do). But even the video was somewhat menacing. He was truly the Black Panther of hip hop and the images portrayed on the video back that up. I got this was the point that I got lost. Despite liking the singles that I heard, I never picked up any of his albums when they dropped. The only album of Paris that I own is his second LP, Sleeping With The Enemy.
In my older age, I’ve sat down and tried to digest the smorgus board of anger and black consciousness. Some of his anger is well placed, as The Devil Made Me Do It has Paris aiming his AK-47 at crooked cops, corrupt politicians and racists of all colors, shapes and sizes. All the topics are streamed toward revolution, anarchy and over throwing the corrupt government, all things that I’m sure any forward thinking person has mulled over once or twice in their lifetimes. But The Devil Made Me Do It truly could be the soundtrack to Armageddon. The beats are often backed by a thick and fuzzy bass line and supported by a minimalistic break beat. They are basic, yet chaotic in nature with lots of guitar sounds, sirens, scratching and mass confusion, almost reminiscent of the Bomb Squad. You do have some exceptions to that rule, such as “Ebony”, which brings a whirling of harp like strings and a light guitar sample. It’s actually a very relaxing track, very smooth and precise. The hook’s energy is raised with some scratching and a “Go! Go! Go!” chant and some other added elements, but coming in at the middle of the album, it’s a nice switch up from the preaching (not meant to be negative). Another interesting track musically, is “Brutal”, which for the first half, follows the set formula of Bomb Squadish approach. The second half though, Paris incorporates an ill electric guitar, which is a powerful instrument when used right.
As I said, it takes an effort to get into Paris brand of hip hop, especially if you are not open thinking and like to take a dose of thought with your music. It’s important to point out that Paris is Pro-Black, not someone full of hate. Yes, some of the music found on The Devil Made Me Do It, is angry and radical, but I’ve always thought it was important to investigate WHY someone thinks the way they do instead of easily writing off Paris and his music as anger and hatred. The album makes you do uncomfortable, but I think thats what Paris was aiming for when he created it.
*was released locally on Godhead in 1989
Style – In Tone We Trust (Select Records, 1990)
|01||What A Brother Know (5:13)|
|02||Hip Hop Blues (3:25)|
|03||Set The Mood (4:30)|
|04||The Assassinator (5:15)|
|05||Who Do You Love? (6:19)|
|06||In Tone We Trust (3:40)|
|07||Release Your Body (4:43)|
|08||Pray For Death (4:06)|
|09||How You Livin’? (4:54)|
|10||Victim To The Vinyl (4:59)|
|12||Just A Little Something (3:16)|
I like to think I’ve heard most of everything there is to hear, or at least anything from a “major” label from back in the days. Select wasn’t major by any sense of the means, but they had a nice roster of artists in those “Golden Age” era days. It was also a label that had fairly good distribution. So why am I just now listening to Style for the first time? Good question, I really don’t know why it took me so long. I do remember the name in liner notes of other artists “Thank You’s” and “Shout Outs”, yet I don’t remember seeing the album in any of the stores I used to hit up, nor do I remember any videos on “Yo!” that I used to get a lot of my introductions to new music from. He was also the little brother of hip hop legend, T La Rock. Truth be told, I’ve had Style’s In Tone We Trust on my hard drive for lord knows how long. I’ve probably have played this before while playing Madden or doing something else, but I didn’t remember anything on it. When looking through my hard drive, trying to find something from 1990 that I hadn’t heard, for some reason, this one stuck out to me. Like Cube said, “Once again, it’s on!”
While pushing play on the…ummm…Winamp (shit just ain’t what it used to be), I started to do a little research on the one called Style, who also went by Tone. Much to my surprise, the album was produced by Hollywood Impact, a cat who did production for Twin Hype and King Sun and who I thought was pretty damn talented when looking back at his sound. Hollywood Impact’s sound is quite evident on the album’s first track “What A Brother Know”, with it’s slap-hard drum sequence that straight up take the track over, all over a sinister bass line. It’s quite an impressive first track, making me wonder why the hell it took me to listen to this album.
In fact, the first four tracks on In Tone We Trust are all tracks that make old farts such as myself which it was 1990 again. “Hip Hop Blues” employs a very familiar piano loop that was made popular a year before this album dropped. Hint: Think “Principal’s Office”, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. But to give Hollywood his props, he hooked up better than the Dust Brothers. “Set The Mood” finds Hollywood doing what he does best, hooking up a club jam. Not quite “house” music, more like “Do It To The Crowd”. This was in the days when it was still cool to get up and tear up a rug, and this track would cause you to grab your dance shoes. One of the singles from the album comes up next in the form of “The Assassinator”, which is possibly the best track on the album and easy to see why it was a single. It’s a hard edged track, which really just lets Style just rip shit lyrically. While he’s not the greatest MC ever, he’s more than just acceptable and he really flexes his lyrical muscles on the quick paced track. It’s nothing that stands out from the time, but it’s just done extraordinarily well. Lyrically, Style aka Tone, is a bit better than some of the untalented basic MCs of the time. On some songs, he almost sounds like Kool Moe Dee, and others he sounds like others. It’s not too distracting though, as he makes the songs sound interesting and adds to the overall enjoyment of the album. Other standout tracks include “How You Livin’?”, “Victim To The Vinyl” and “Just A Little Something”.
In all actuality, this album is a very good listen from front to back. True, a credit a lot of it to Hollywood Impact’s, with his underrated production style that took shit to the next level back in those days. There is really only one track that I would skip in future listens, and that’s the mandatory for the day love song, “Who Do You Love?” Just about every album had to follow the LL Cool J theme and have one, but most often they sucked, just like this one. I could see myself being all over this album back in the day, it’s just sad it took me 19 years later to finally hear it.